Panic buying: one year on

The 16th of March 2020 was a revealing day for marketers. Day 1 of the UK national lockdown, shelves were left empty and the perceived value of toilet roll had never been higher. The Covid pandemic had highlighted the judgement and rationality of consumers.

This article aims to shed light over who, what and why people panic buy as well as the future impacts created.


Research by Ipsos found the least vulnerable age group to the virus (18-35 years old) were most likely to change their shopping habits and purchase things they normally wouldn’t do.


39% of respondents said they thought it was acceptable to buy at least one of the items listed below in bulk, during March 2020.

Paper products and home care products had the highest growth value over the non-edible consumer goods in the UK.

General merchandise and cosmetics had the biggest drop in value.

Marketers now have a clear indication over what items were, and were not left on shop shelves, therefore impacting their future potential value.


Is this a natural or irrational reaction? What is the psychology behind panic buying?

Scarcity creates value

In a previous blog post I explained how scarcity increases perceived value. With events like natural disasters, such as a hurricane or flood, people rationally stock up with emergency supplies. However, stocking up on hundreds on cans of beans before a 2-week isolation period doesn’t seem rational.

Individuals’ perception of a threat of a crisis and the scarcity of products impact the fear of the unknown, caused by emotions of uncertainty. Panic buying is a coping behaviour, caused by a lack of perceived control (1).

This suggests a psychological mechanism is in place to deal with consumer fear and uncertainty.

Media sensationalism

Excessive play in social media and news media, amplifies the sense of scarcity and increases the sense of urgency, which worsens panic buying.

Mentions of ‘out of stock’ alongside a store name:

Source: Brandwatch Consumer Research

Younger consumers have higher social media consumption, so could be more susceptible to media influence and panic buying- a form of individualistic behaviour.

Individualistic behaviour can be created from a loss of feeling as part of a community during a crisis. Dr Clifford Stott, a consumer psychology expert, suggested the media should try to create a ‘collective society’, not blame consumers and be divisive when it comes to publishing news about panic buying.

Future impact

The covid pandemic has caused the biggest disruption to the UK since World War II, high income families haven’t had to worry about food shortages in generations. People were accustomed to eating whatever they wanted, when they wanted.

These consumers will now have to get used to having less choice and freedom over what they can buy.

A lack of food availability and reduced income will continue to increase the vulnerability of the less well-of in the UK. There has already been a surge in the use of food banks and more will be need to be done in terms of donations and support.

What is it like to be a student during the Covid pandemic?

I am a final-year student at the University of Reading. In this blog post, I will explain how Covid has impacted: academic experience, social life, fees, mental health, graduate jobs and how university life is more than just the academic content.

As I write this post, I’m currently living in my childhood bedroom, only allowed to leave the house for essential services or daily exercise. If someone had told me last year that this is where I would be today due to a global pandemic, I would have laughed and not believed them. Who would have known we would be where we are now in January 2021?

What is the university experience like?

Previously lectures would have been in a busy lecture theatre with 30-100 other students in it. They now look like this:

All lectures have been moved online to Microsoft Teams in first term, originally a ‘blended learning approach’ for 2nd term was promised, however a new more transmissible strain of Covid meant 2nd term was the same. As it stands, I have had 1 face-to-face lecture all year and it looks like that will be all year.

When going to the library you have to book it through an online system because of social distancing rules, regularly this gets booked up in the busy hours and you cannot access the services.

Once you are inside, arrows and sanitiser pumps are placed everywhere, and people are ensured to wear a mask and keep a 2 meter distance from people.

All exams during first and second term have been moved online. It is yet to be decided if summer exams will be taken online. However, with a whole years worth of lectures done online it seems fair that the summer exams should be as well.

Last year, students were given the ‘no detriment’ policy. This acts as a safety net to ensure students obtain at least their average grade so far. Put simply, the grade students currently have is the lowest they can achieve (1). As it stands this has not been provided for students this year.

Social life

Social life has come to a halt, social distancing has meant that nights to the students union or other events can no longer happen. During periods where we are not in lockdown, you can only socialise with the table you are sat on (maximum of 6 people) and are encouraged to not mix with people not in your household.

Normally, the university campus would be full of energy, you would always bump into people you knew, make friends and something was always going on. For the time being, the campus has become a very quiet place that is difficult to meet new people. It just isn’t the same place anymore in my eyes.

Having spent the first 2 years as a student and another year on placement in Reading, I feel that i’m one of the lucky ones really. I have had more than my fair share of nights out and cracking memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. However, most students have really missed out on a lot of this through no fault of their own.


For this third national lockdown, students are legally not allowed back into their accommodation unless they were already there. For students in accommodation owned by the university, they will be refunded for this. However, those in private accommodation are in a position where they are still paying for a place to live that they cannot go to.

There is also a lot of controversy over how universities are still charging the full £9,250 fees per year, despite getting the accessibility of an online course that would cost £3,096 per year from The Open University. It appears that many university students have been dissatisfied by their university experience this year as it has not been value for money.

Reading students have set up an instagram page to raise their concerns faced from this virus, for information to be passed onto the students union to pass though their issues to the universities executive board.

Mental health

Lockdown periods can be particularly isolating for many people, especially for those who are living on their own. It has been important is to keep in contact and check-in with friends and people you may not have heard from in a while, this may be over phone call, or even just a text message. With a mental health crisis going on at the moment, it is more important than ever to be a good friend.

If you are struggling with your own mental health during this period, here is a link to services that could help.

Graduate jobs

Normally, the university holds multiple career events each year, where potential employers come in, explain what their company does and allow for students to ask questions and make valuable contacts. Universities have done what they can, by holding online services and access to their university experiences. Unfortunately, this will not be able to provide same experience that these events normally have to offer, in person.

University is more than just the academic material

A lot of the academic material taught at university doesn’t actually get used in the working world. University is more than the classes we take or the grades we get. It’s a huge opportunity for personal growth, experimentation and to learn the skills we need for the rest of our lives.

Before Covid, university has helped myself to:

  • Expand my social circle to outside of where I have grown up
  • Interact with people from other backgrounds, cultures and viewpoints
  • Manage my attendance and time spent on work
  • Conduct research without guidance
  • Learn self-reliance by:
    • Making my own food
    • Paying bills
    • Doing laundry
    • Getting a job
    • Budgeting money

I have had a great time at uni, an experience that I would fully recommend.

The bigger picture

I have tried my best to explain the situation for what it is, not rant. Many people, myself included, have lost loved ones from this pandemic. It is clear for all students why we are taking these sacrifices. With the vaccination process taking place in the UK, there is hope for normality to come back.

However, there is a strong feeling amongst students across the UK that they have been thrown under the bus. Without government intervention to change this, it will be hard to achieve. Click here to sign an online petition to reduce university student tuition fees.

Hopefully, in the summer term we are able to have some more normality and maybe even a graduation ceremony at some point in the future.

KFC’s pandemic marketing

As 2020 comes to an end, I’ve reflected on my favourite marketing campaigns. A stand out has to be KFC and how they handled the obstacles the Corona pandemic threw at them.  Many companies took the ‘we’re here for you’ approach, which in my opinion, can come across as a bit disingenuous. KFC on the other hand, were punchy and entertaining.

Before the pandemic hit the first peak in the UK, KFC released the standard Finger Lickin’ good campaign. This received a surprising 163 complaints reported the Advertising Standards Agency in March alone, saying that the ad was inappropriate given the current COVID crisis. 

I’m sure frustration was felt amongst some of the marketing team, who would have spent the past few months working hard to craft the perfect campaign, until…

After 64 years, KFC decided to drop one of the most famous slogans in the world ‘its finger lickin’ good’ to just ‘it’s good’. Where previously ‘finger lickin” would have been, was replaced with blurred words, to furthermore grab the attention of potential customers.

KFC had listened to their customers and acted upon it- marketing in its truest form.

It was a smart move as it made the brand more relevant in the minds of consumers at a low cost, and reinforced the existing slogan by announcing its temporary removal. As shown by the graph above, KFC’s brand awareness rose significantly.

Next up, was charming online contact with loyal customers. During the peak of the first peak of pandemic customers were not able to access any fast food. KFC’s response? #RateMyKFC, an interactive social media campaign which encouraged people to make their own version of KFC wings and post them on Twitter for people to review and criticise.

39% of social media users said they were spending more time on social media during the pandemic and this particular campaign generated hundreds of tweets within the first day.

The subsequent tongue-in-cheek TV ad showed actual mobile phone footage of poorly recreate the wings, with a backdrop of All By Myself by Celine Dion.

Playful self-criticism can work very well for a brand, for instance the well-known Mouldy Burger by Burger King, turning a negative into a positive. A trick I believe Corona beer is missing out on at the moment. For instance, if they were to create a campaign edged with a bit of humour towards people thinking the beer could actually give someone the virus, coupled with donating 10% of their proceeds to a COVID-related charity.

All in all, KFC has shown that the use of levity can go a long way.

3 ways Covid-19 has accelerated the adoption of technology

The unprecedented effects of Covid-19 created a stop to ‘normality’ as we knew it. Every industry has had to re-evaluate their priorities, with developing a digital strategy high up on the list.

Despite how devastating these times have been for families and businesses, a silver lining is the innovation that has sparked from organisations having to improvise and experiment how they conduct their day-to-day operations.


Telehealth has been an essential tool against Covid-19. It has allowed for patients to see a doctor for when it is absolutely necessary, therefore limiting exposure and risk of spreading of the virus.

Future robotic healthcare will address a scarcity of healthcare professionals able to treat patients without endangering themselves.

However there are still limitations, as telehealth is only useful if patients are able to receive the same level of care. A recent study by Fingercare, found 58% of healthcare professionals were concerned about maintaining patients care in the long term.


Retailers without an online presence have been hardest hit, Primark for an example, lost a staggering £650M in sales.

According to the ONS, the amount of goods sold in March fell by 18.1% in the UK. However, online shopping as a proportion of all retail reached a record high of 30.7%. The retailers who have managed to make the shift online have been able to manage customers needs better.

Developing a digital identity is sometimes neglected by many organisations. Coivd has forced organisations to see the value of investing and developing an online presence.


In the past 50 years there has been the rise and fall of office culture. Previously, it was common to see remote working no more than once a week in most companies. However, the virus has increased this shift- meaning office life will quite literally never be the same again.

Twitter, Facebook and Upace has released that they are allowing all their staff to work from home forever. Flexible working seems like it it is here to stay for good, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Cyber security has been more important than ever as global attacks have been on the increase. Hackers are already shifting their targets from relatively well-defended corporate environments to home offices and other offsite locations that lack similarly strong protections.


Technology is helping to fight the battle against Covid-19.

It appears that many companies that have been able to pivot and embrace digital transformation. However, the recent changes has come as a wakeup call for those who aren’t able to keep up, as Covid has just highlighted the fragility of modern times.

What are some of the ways you think digital transformation will affect the marketing industry? Feel free to leave a comment below.