COVID-19 panic buying is like for storms but with a twist

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Panic buying is causing customers to choose from limited supply on empty shelves in stores, such as this Costco in Oak Brook, Illinois. Photo Credit: Elena Shklyar

People dealing with COVID-19 uncertainty are turning to panic buying.

In the Chicago suburbs, often occurs when snowstorms come. In the coronavirus instance, panic buying includes staples bought during a snowstorm, but also sanitary items that are not usually in high demand.

“Basically any item to combat the virus has been a hot commodity, such as all of our disinfectant wipes, sanitizers, Clorox wipes and hand soap,” said Christine Diep, employee at Costco Wholesale Corp. in Oak Brook, Illinois. “Of course the big ones like toilet paper, paper towels and water have been gone. We get those almost every day and they are immediately sold out.”

While people are storming the stores to stock up for who knows how long, store are attempting to keep up with the high demand while also keeping the safety of citizens in mind first.

Costco has placed multiple signs around their store encouraging social distancing. One reads “social distancing, please keep six feet apart.”

“This is the emptiest I have ever seen some of these stores, like there are so many people there but the shelves are just empty,” said Kailee Bass, resident of Naperville, Illinois. “I have lived here my whole life and it is just scary to see how you can come to the store wanting something simple like bread and it’s all gone.”

The panic buying has been causing items in stores to go out of stock at rapid rates.


Items are going out of stock in multiple stores, such as Kramer Foods in Hinsdale, Illinois. Photo Credit: Elena Shklyar

“We will get a truckload of toilet paper and in just an hour, it will be gone. Like a full truck of paper, like 60 pallets, will be gone so quick,” said Miguel Carreno, employee at Costco. “We put out a pallet of water over the weekend and it was ripped to almost empty in four minutes.

At the entrance to Costco, a large board lists out-of-stock items. These included toilet paper, sanitizing wipes, baby wipes, pasta, flour, eggs, rice, bleach, nitrile gloves, paper towels, multiple brands of water, ground beef and it has limited seafood items and meat department items.

Costco has placed a temporary limit on many items.

“People would come in and load up a cart of certain items and we had to start limiting people from buying 30 cases of water at once,” said Carreno. “Our system actually limits them for how much they can buy.”

“If we catch customers back here loading more than the limit into their cart, we try to tell them to stop, but most people just ignore us and wait to see if they get caught in the front and sure enough, the machines do catch them,” said Diep. “We have to limit it to be fair to other customers.”

One sign in Costco read that it is imposing a temporary limit of two units for water, rice, sugar, disinfectant wipes and Lysol.

Costco is not alone, as many other chain grocery stores or convenience stores have also placed temporary limits on these high-demand items.

Kramer foods in Hinsdale, Illinois, has been running out of certain staples as well. The store has signs encouraging customers to purchase only the necessary amounts of products so there is still some available to others in need.

(Editor’s note: With classes moving online, some Michigan State journalism students are reporting about their home communities.)