What’s the deal with toilet paper selling out so quickly amid coronavirus?

As coronavirus concerns spread, stores and online retailers struggle to keep toilet paper in stock. Why?

Credit: AJC

As the coronavirus continues to spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have issued some guidelines for preparing your household.

Coronavirus concerns have wiped toilet paper supplies out at some stores.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread, retailers across metro Atlanta and the nation have had a hard time keeping toilet paper and other paper products in stock. Even Amazon is running short.

Which has some asking, “why?”


Sure, toilet paper is a necessity, but why does it seem to be among the first thing missing from a store’s shelves?

Steven Taylor, a clinical psychologist who studies the impact of pandemics, told CNN that to some degree perceived scarcity is driving demand.

"People, being social creatures, we look to each other for cues for what is safe and what is dangerous," he said. "And when you see someone in the store, panic buying, that can cause a fear contagion effect."

Taylor also notes that when people feel like they have a limited amount of information, they tend to look to extremes.

However, Business Insider reports that despite bare shelves, a toilet paper shortage isn't likely. In part, that's because, unlike other products, there are still a lot of toilet paper manufacturers right here in the United States.

Eric Abercrombie, a spokesman for Georgia-Pacific, told the Birmingham News that they are currently seeing two times typical demand from retailers, but insists they will not run out.

The Atlanta-based manufacturer is one of the world’s largest suppliers of paper products.

“We’re a market-based company, so we’ll continue to review and adjust to meet any demand,” Abercrombie told the newspaper.

So if we’re not likely to run out of rolls, what makes us stock up?

Jay L. Zagorsky, a senior lecturer at Boston University, writes in Business Insider that buying things like toilet paper is a way for us to feel in control.

"This is an example of 'zero risk bias,' in which people prefer to try to eliminate one type of possibly superficial risk entirely rather than do something that would reduce their total risk by a greater amount," Zagorsky writes.

Zagorsky says that hoarding is a way to make ourselves feel secure.

“When the world is faced with a novel disease over which all of us have little or no control. However, we can control things like having enough toilet paper in case we are quarantined,” he writes.

Taylor, the clinical psychologist, also told CNN that buyers know toilet paper is something they will eventually use, which leads to the calculus of, "why not buy it now?"

So, is it worth the hassle of trying to get your hands on a roll or two of toilet paper?

According to Taylor, if it makes you feel better, go for it.

"Depending on how people estimate the chances of needing the toilet paper, the hassle might be worth it," he told CNN. "If it gave them the feeling that they had done everything that they could, it might free them to think about other things than coronavirus."