The Two Ply Veneer

If you lack a Hobbesian view of human nature, you are going to be late to the pandemic hoarding party. You are going to be without toilet paper.

That’s what I told myself standing in Safeway staring at the empty shelves, feeling slightly embarrassed… as if I had missed some obvious social cue. Why toilet paper? The Google offered some insight:

Stocking up on toilet paper is … a relatively cheap action, and people like to think that they are ‘doing something’ when they feel at risk.” 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.

The Everett Herald

These days the the greater risk is going to the grocery store in the first place.

Given the amount of uncertainty in which we were swimming…self quarantine? lock down? days or weeks?… adding a little buffer stock to one’s cache of TP was rational. The effects of mass buffering however were empty shelves. For Americans, empty shelves are eerie and portentous. OMG …my neighborhood cornucopia is empty of that which can clean me…toilet paper, disinfectants and hand sanitizers. What will I be deprived of next? This is how an end-times shopping spree gets its start.

Few people appreciate how much retail inventory is “just in time”. I did a stint with Kroger a few years back (All praise the UFCW!) The only real storage space in a grocery store is the shelves. The corporate computer knows how much of any product will be (normally) needed in each store each week. Toilet paper takes up a lot of shelf space and sales are normally not volatile. In a well run store, there is only a two day supply. It is only when people get irregular that the supply chain falters.

More from the pandemic prison later.


1 Comment So Far

Carla says:

Finally I understand the empty shelves! Thank you!

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