Consumers panic-buyed and over-consumed during the Covid pandemic

COVID-19 caused chaos in almost every aspect of daily life, including consumer and retailer behavior. In Israel, people rushed from store to store to find hand sanitizer, alcohol gels, masks and saliva tests. When the pandemic slowed, there were many face masks and alcohol gel containers left on the shelves.

It wasn't the first pandemic that changed the way we shop. In 2009–10, populations around the world were shaken by the H1N1 swine-flu outbreak. Mass panic buying of personal hygiene products such as hand sanitizer was common. Just as in the early days of COVID-19, stores quickly sold out of in-demand items, with supply chains struggling to meet surging demand.

The swine flu pandemic killed 300,000 people worldwide. Its two waves lasted about 16 weeks, providing researchers with an ideal experiment to compare consumer behavior and retailers' responses to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Xiaodan Pan, a professor in the department of supply chain and business technology at Concordia University in Canada, has published a new paper on the topic. Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services Under the title “Stocking Hand Sanitizer: Pandemic Lessons for Retailers and Consumers.”

What did the study find?

In his study, Pan studied the hand-sanitizer market to see what was learned from the 2009–10 swine flu incident and to develop lessons for consumers and retailers today. They looked at sales of alcohol gels in the US over a decade period from 2008 to 2017. Weekly data were collected from a database that tracks product prices and sales volumes as well as store characteristics from more than 38,000 stores in more than 90 countries. Participating retail chains. The researchers also collected data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to track seasonal flu epidemics and swine flu epidemics across the country.

Xiaodan Pan, Professor in the Department of Supply Chain Management and Business Technology, John Molson School of Business, Concordia University in Canada. (Credit: David Ward)

They found that demand for hand sanitizer increased as soon as the swine flu pandemic was declared – there was initially a shortage of alcohol gel, but the industry adopted strategic stockpiling practices, increasing the supply of larger pack size sanitizer products. Went. Biggest demand.

By the second wave of the swine flu pandemic, sales of larger pack size hand sanitizers exceeded sales of smaller pack sizes, leading to changes in consumer behavior and retailer product availability. The researchers found no evidence of price increases by major retailers and noted that the clear winners among retailers were warehouse clubs that specialized in larger pack-size products and drugstores that offered a larger variety of products. Was a leader in the sale of hand sanitizer.

In preparing his study, Pan collected a decade of weekly sanitizer sales data. “We did not just focus on the swine flu epidemic,” Pan stressed. “We needed a natural experiment, so we used the 2008–09 seasonal flu pandemic as a base case, and then we measured sanitizer sales during the 2009–10 swine flu pandemic, as well as seven seasonal flu pandemics. “Investigated sales during.”

Consumers and retailers learn from their experiences. Comparing data from the two waves of the swine flu pandemic, researchers found that retailers were better prepared during the second wave, with a larger range of sanitizer products. While sales declined during the subsequent seasonal flu pandemic, it took four seasons for sales to return to pre-pandemic levels, indicating that both consumers and retailers retained their pandemic-related behaviors after the pandemic ended.

Despite increasing demand, prices did not rise in the US. No significant price increase was recorded in the alcohol-gel category. Changes in purchasing patterns that promoted larger pack-size purchases actually led to lower per-unit prices for consumers during the pandemic.

“I think the biggest lesson here is that there is no need to panic buy. The evidence shows that without price increases, supply and demand will quickly balance out,” she says.

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