All over Colorado this weekend, consumers struggle to find basic cleaning supplies and toilet paper.
Hoarders and preppers are preparing for the potential of a full-fledged coronavirus pandemic. In Colorado Springs, Costco and other big-box discount stores opened to lines outside the door as people waited to buy up supplies of toilet paper, hand sanitizers and cleaning products.
The run on basic supplies will get worse if other parts of the world are any indication.
“In Australia, major grocers have restricted supplies to one pack per person,” reported USA Today on Friday. “In Japan, rolls are chained to the wall in public toilets. In Hong Kong, armed robbers carried out a heist as supplies were delivered to a supermarket.”
Mindless hoarding begets more hoarding. People fear the run on products will deprive them, so they join in with reckless abandon for restraint.
It is reasonable and responsible to prepare for the coronavirus, which is in Colorado and spreading. Any individual or family quarantined to a home for weeks will need an adequate supply of food and sanitary products.
Yet, it is sad to see a handful of people with high economic means buying a retailer’s supply of these products before others have the opportunity to procure modest amounts. We heard tales of single consumers buying entire shelves of sanitary wipes and bleach cleaners at area stores. Consumers shared tips on social media Saturday to help those desperately seeking even a few rolls of bath tissue.
The result of this is sad. A handful of consumers have enough cleaning products and tissue to last years, while more consumers lack what they need to get through a few days.
This type of behavior is not new or uncommon. We see it to varying degrees in advance of major Colorado blizzards.
We hear stories about price gouging when hurricanes approach major coastal cities. Retailers raise the price of bottled water, gasoline and other commodities in sudden high demand.
It raises a difficult question: What’s the line between gouging and rationing?
A case can be made for retailers imposing reasonable price increases on high-demand supplies — which might be difficult and expensive to restock — to reduce the instant shelf clearing that benefits a few at the expense of the many. Socially conscious retailers can use price, or restrict the quantities and volumes people can buy during a single transaction.
Ideally, retailers would have to do neither. Imagine if everyone would think about others when providing for themselves. Be kind and consider households of modest means with children to care for. Just because you can buy the shelf of Clorox and hand sanitizer does not mean you should.
We’re in this together, and we will fare best as a community of people who care for one another. Buy what you need and leave the rest.