Is it really “panic buying”? Public perceptions and experiences of extra buying at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic

Evangelos Ntontis, Sara Vestergren, Patricio Saavedra, Fergus Neville, Klara Jurstakova, Chris Cocking, Siugmin Lay, John Drury, Clifford Stott, Stephen Reicher, Vivian L. Vignoles

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Shopping behaviour in response to extreme events is often characterized as “panic buying” which connotes irrationality and loss of control. However, “panic buying” has been criticized for attributing shopping behaviour to people’s alleged psychological frailty while ignoring other psychological and structural factors that might be at play. We report a qualitative exploration of the experiences and understandings of shopping behaviour of members of the public at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Through a thematic analysis of semistructured interviews with 23 participants, we developed three themes. The first theme addresses people’s understandings of “panic buying”. When participants referred to “panic
buying” they meant observed product shortages (rather than the underlying psychological processes that can lead to such behaviours), preparedness behaviours, or emotions such as fear and worry. The second theme focuses on the influence of the media and other people’s behaviour in shaping subsequent shopping behaviours. The third theme addresses the meaningful motivations behind increased shopping, which participants described in terms of preparedness; some participants reported increased shopping behaviours as a response to other people stockpiling, to reduce their trips to supermarkets, or to prepare for product shortages and longer stays at home. Overall, despite frequently using the term ‘panic’, the
irrationalist connotations of “panic buying” were largely absent from participants’ accounts. Thus, “panic buying” is not a useful concept and should not be used as it constructs expected responses to threat as irrational or pathological. It can also facilitate such behaviours, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0264618
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 25 Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

The research presented here was supported by a QR seed grant by the School of Psychology and Life Sciences at Canterbury Christ Church University awarded to Evangelos Ntontis, and by a UKRI grant awarded to John Drury, Clifford Stott, Stephen Reicher, Fergus Neville and Evangelos Ntontis (ES/V005383/1). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Ntontis et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.


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