How to stop people from panic-buying

A guest blog by Becky Slack and Emma Insley.

How might we change things when change is hard – and how might we change things when the world as we know it seems about to end?

These were among the questions discussed this week during the Lucidity Network Business Book Club meeting. The first meeting of 2020, nine Lucidity Network members took part, some with glass of wine or beer in hand, and all with useful insights to make about our book of choice: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath.

In the book, the authors argue that we need only understand how our minds function in order to unlock shortcuts to switches in behaviour. The first lesson in how our minds function is that humans make decisions based on emotional and rational thinking. The Heath brothers describe our emotional brain as an emotional elephant and the rational brain as the little rider perched on the top. To make change happen you have to reach both the emotional elephant and the rational rider. Then you have to clear the way for them to succeed. In short, to make change happen you must do three things:

  1. Direct the rider
  2. Motivate the elephant
  3. Shape the path

And given that we are currently facing the biggest disruption to life since World War Two, we thought it might be fun to apply the learnings from the book to the Coronavirus crisis. Among the scenarios discussed was that of how to stop people from panic buying and be more community minded. Here’s what we considered…

Clinic: How to get people to be more community minded in times of crisis?

Situation: As Coronavirus has spread around the world, shoppers everywhere have been stockpiling key items such as hand sanitiser, pasta and bread. The trend has seen supermarket shelves emptying, stores restricting sales and fights breaking out over toilet roll.

Stockpiling is completely unnecessary and risks vulnerable people being left without essential supplies. The government and supermarket chiefs have all confirmed that the country has plenty of supplies and that the UK will not run out. So far, these words have fallen on deaf ears. What will help people change their behaviour, become responsible shoppers once again, and support others in their community?

What’s the switch and what’s holding it back?
The behaviour the government and supermarkets want from shoppers is clear: people just need to purchase regular amounts of goods. Panic-buying in this way means that other people miss out – and miss out unnecessarily. However, this is a crisis situation and survival instincts have kicked in. Media reports and social media posts containing photos of empty shelves are causing people to engage in seemingly irrational behaviours.

How do we make the switch?

  • Direct the rider

1.Find the bright spots

The government/supermarkets/media should find examples of communities where people are shopping responsibly and supporting community members. In Lincoln, for example, volunteers are coming together to support vulnerable and isolated people by doing basic shopping and running errands for them. Sharing more stories about what people are they doing differently and why, rather than scenes of panic-buying, will help to spread kindness and consideration throughout our communities.

2. Script the critical moves

Fear of the unknown and a daily changing situation is creating panic. Ambiguity in messaging from the government about what to expect and how to behave is creating confusion. Everyone is feeling stressed, in danger and out of control. Stockpiling of food and toilet roll makes them feel in control.

A set of clear messaging is needed about what is happening and what the public needs to do will help them feel in control again.

  • Motivate the elephant

1. Find the feeling

We discussed how a feeling of pride and trust in our local communities is necessary if we are to feel safe. If we trust our communities to look out for us and to share their food and toilet roll, then we don’t need to stockpile. However, while many people enjoy online communities (such as the one offered by Lucidity Network) these are often geographically dispersed. Strong local community links are less common. One way to help build those quickly is to share stories of how good it feels to help or be helped by a neighbour.

  • Shape the path
  1. Tweak the environment

Rules on what people are able to buy and switching the big shopping trolleys for the smaller ones and baskets will prevent stockpiling, and opening shops earlier will provide an opportunity for vulnerable people to access essential supplies.

       2. Rally the herd

People are sensitive to social norms. More stories are needed that share positive experiences of self-isolating, to help show people that it’s not as scary as they may think, and which highlight the many ways in which communities are coming together to help each other – to encourage others by being role models. Tools such as the #Viralkindness Postcard make it easier to offer and accept help.

Lucidity Network Business Book Club readers were optimistic that good things would come out of this crisis – we were hopeful that communities will come together, and we will experience a greater connection to those who live closest to us if we chose kindness over panic and self-preservation.

The book

Switch: How to change things when change is hard By Chip and Dan Heath

Within this book, Chip and Dan Heath provide a clear framework to help people and organisations figure out a pathway to change when change is hard.

To join the Lucidity Network business book club

The Lucidity Network business book club is just one of the benefits of being part of the Lucidity Network. When you join you also get connected to a generous community who provide help, support and connection. You get monthly online training kits and webinars on those topics that are essential for a happy and productive working life, including innovation, managing up, learning from failure and unconscious bias. You also get access to group coaching, mastermind groups and events. For more information go here. If you’re interested in joining the Lucidity Network or have any questions, then drop Lucy a line at

Becky Slack is the founder and managing director of Slack Communications, which for the last seven years has provided editorial, communications and training services to mission-led organisations and entrepreneurs.  She is author of Effective Media Relations for Charities: What Journalists Want and How to Deliver it and co-hosts a creative writing retreat in southwest France called L’atelier des écrivains – The Writers’ Retreat, France.

Emma Insley helps charities and social enterprises to measure and demonstrate their impact in a compelling way so that they can raise more money and achieve their mission.