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As tempting as it is, don’t buy in bulk at the grocery store right now

Published Jun 24th, 2020 5:36PM EDT
Grocery store
Image: Duncan Williams/CSM/Shutterstock

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  • A trip to the grocery store is one of the many ordinary facets of daily life that have been completely turned inside-out as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
  • One of the worst behaviors you can practice now is bulk-buying items on your next trip to the grocery store.
  • On balance, you’re not better off by hoarding many goods, and we’ll explain why.

One of the defining images, for me, of the early days of the coronavirus pandemic was seeing an image posted to social media of a woman pushing a shopping cart. It was completely filled with one thing and one thing only — lots and lots and lots of (full) milk jugs. Notwithstanding this shopper’s ignorance about the whole concept of milk expiring, I’m sure we can all remember those adventures at the grocery store at the start of the pandemic, when we were regularly greeted with empty shelves that had been picked clean of toilet paper (and empty freezers where shoppers had grabbed all of the milk in stock). Because of this phenomenon, web tools began to spring up, like the site, which gather data from multiple grocery stores and retailers in one place so you don’t have to check tons of sites for product availability before you embark on a shopping trip.

But let’s go back to that example at the beginning for a moment. Because buying in bulk and hoarding right now, as counterintuitive as this might sound when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, is actually not the right way to shop at the moment.

Grocery chains and retailers like Costco have made lots of big changes to accommodate shoppers and deal with changes wrought by COVID-19. For example, you’ll see signs at places like Target explaining that shoppers are only allowed to buy a limited number of highly sought-after products like milk and toilet paper. Other changes include dedicating an hour of shopping during the day when only seniors and the vulnerable can shop, free from being around the general public.

Some changes are likely to linger even after the pandemic has ended. PwC, for example, conducted a survey of 1,600 consumers which found that 42% say they plan to keep on buying goods in bulk until the COVID-19 pandemic is officially over. Another 64% said they’ll keep doing that even after the pandemic is over.

There are a number of reasons why grocery stores — and other shoppers — wish you would stop doing this right now, however.

One is the effect this has on the price of goods. Take the price of a dozen eggs, which topped $3 in March. When you buy in bulk and even wipe out a store’s inventory of goods, you are taking actions that lead to price increases. Prices get raised so that inventory doesn’t get obliterated, so your panic-buying means that I pay more, in addition to dealing with scarcity.

As noted earlier, many items (like milk) also have an expiration date, so buying too much actually does you no good and is a waste. Additionally, tons of you are bulk buying the wrong things, with the New York Times noting that unhealthy items like cookies and chips have seen big sales spikes recently — and having more of that around the house, of course, leads to a lot more snacking and weight gain.

Bottom line: Buy what you need, people. Not what you need … to turn your home into an episode of Hoarders.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.