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Pandemic Stockpiling Across Cultures

Pandemic Stockpiling Across Cultures

Julie Bonnin

This article was originally published on University of Houston’s Bauer College of Business site.

Seeing empty shelves at grocery stores, big box stores and drugstores was one of the defining moments of the pandemic, a recurring scene characterized by what wasn’t there. People were hoarding items such as toilet paper, bleach and other everyday items soon after a pandemic was declared in March 2020.

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Consumers’ tendency to stockpile items during a crisis, and the resulting lack of stock, may be an annoyance for most of us, but it can have a more serious impact for others:  People who have difficulty getting out to shop because they lack transportation, have a disability, or serve as frontline public servants with inflexible schedules.

Recent research from the Journal of International Marketing has important implications for supply chain managers, retail vendors, public policymakers and others looking to prevent the next crisis-related stockpiling.

Associate Professor Johannes Habel of the University of Houston’s Department of Marketing & Entrepreneurship and his co-authors used country-level data on cultural values, pandemic reaction policies, and other key variables as well as global mobility data from Google, in producing their article, “Consumer Stockpiling Across Cultures During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

“We used consumers’ country–day movement trends to grocery stores, food warehouses, farmers’ markets, specialty food shops, and pharmacies from February 15 until April 11, 2020, using the COVID-19 Community Mobility Report dataset (Google 2020),” Habel said.

“Our analysis focused on the daily percentage change in visits to shopping destinations compared to the respective typical day of the week in early 2020 for 131 countries or regions. We matched this dataset with data on countries’ cultural values and found that consumers in countries characterized by relatively high uncertainty avoidance, low long-term orientation, low indulgence, and high individualism are most likely to react immediately and drastically to policymakers’ announcements.”

The findings may help policymakers and business managers make more informed decisions and shape communications in a way that reassures and calms consumers in future crisis situations, Habel said.

“They should also consider a country’s culture when forming expectations of consumer purchase behavior in crises and taking preparatory actions to prevent stockouts.”

Habel’s research interests include the psychology of personal selling and sales management, as well as the digital transformation of sales. He is a member of the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science and an ad-hoc reviewer for the Journal of Marketing.

Earlier this year, his research, “Customer–Salesperson Relationships in Times of Crisis: A Power–Dependency Perspective,” was awarded first place in the “Frontlines-in-Crisis” research competition held in partnership with the Journal of Service Research and the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.

He received the 2020 Marvin Jolson Award for the Best Contribution to Selling and Sales Management Practice and a 2021 honorable mention for the same award, for research titled, “When Do Customers Perceive Customer Centricity? The Role of a Firm’s and Salespeople’s Customer Orientation,” published in the Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management.