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Top 10 Crazy Covid-19 Panic Purchases (That Aren’t Toilet Paper)

by Mary Fetzer
fact checked by Jamie Frater

The COVID-19 lockdown has changed the way we live … and the way we buy. In the U.S., first-quarter sales of consumer packaged goods (CPG) were $23.7 billion higher than the same period a year ago: higher, in fact, than the CPG sales growth over the entire 2019 calendar year.

Americans have modified not only *how much* they purchase, but also *what* they’re buying. “You can definitely see that as people have stayed home, their focus shifted,” said Walmart CEO Doug McMillon.

When the shutdowns began, true panic purchasing kicked in. The first things to fly off the shelves (in stores and online) were protective face masks, toilet paper, and disinfectant cleaning products. Nielsen reported that, during the first week of March, hand sanitizer sales rose 470 percent from the same period in 2019. Bath tissue, facial tissue, and paper towels all saw triple-digit sales increases during the second week of March, and aerosol disinfectant sales skyrocketed by 519 percent.

While these types of panic purchases were somewhat expected, it’s been fun to see what else consumers have been buying up during their weeks of quarantine.

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10 Elastic

At the beginning of the quarantine, there was a lot of controversy about face masks. Celebrities were donning N95 masks, while healthcare providers were going without. Medical experts advised others against wearing face masks but later recommended that all frontline workers and shoppers wear them.

As such, basic face masks were hard to come by. So, people got creative.”How to make your own face mask” videos and tips flooded social media. Masks were crafted from bandanas, scarves, t-shirts, socks, and bra cups. Most of the DIY masks required elastic to function effectively.

The shortage continued, and folks stepped up to make masks not just for themselves but for those in need as well. A call for volunteers from Joann stores has thus far collected more than 114 million “Masks for America.” Singer donated sewing machines to fashion designers and hospitals to boost mask supplies for frontline workers.

It’s no surprise then that elastic continues to hold the top spot on Amazon’s best sellers in arts, crafts, and sewing. Those homemade masks aren’t going to stay up on their own![1]

9 Baby Wipes

With hand sanitizer and Clorox wipes so difficult to come by, consumers are turning to baby wipes to keep the virus at bay. Currently, more than half of Amazon’s best-selling baby products are wipes. This is a new dynamic, as sales of disposable baby products had been slowing, thanks to declining birth rates. (Perhaps several weeks in quarantine will result in an uptick of new babies in about nine months or so!)

It is worth noting that most baby wipes will not guard against the coronavirus. In order for a “sanitizing” wipe to protect from germs, bacteria, and viruses, it must contain 70 percent isopropyl alcohol. Consumers may be better served by keeping paper towels in a coffee can filled with a bleach solution.[2]

8 Yeast

SSA & Company, a global management consultant, estimates that–thanks to the lockdown–between 35 and 40 percent of consumers are eating home-cooked meals for the first time.

Sales of baking products increased during the second half of March. Surprisingly, baking yeast sales increased by 647 percent, more than any other consumer packaged goods product. And spiral hams spiked by 622 percent over the same time in the previous year (boosted, in part, by the approaching Easter holiday).

Amazon’s grocery and gourmet sales during the first week in April were 77 percent higher than they were just two months earlier. The Walmart Grocery app surpassed Amazon by 20 percent and reached an all-time high: as of April 5, average daily Walmart Grocery downloads were up 460 percent over January.[3]

7 Kitchen Scales

Interestingly, food scales have ranked high on the list of best sellers. As more people are cooking at home, they’re discovering equipment and utensils that make the job easier. All-in-one instant pots, air fryers, and waffle makers have also been in demand, up 7 percent from the previous April. Other “nonessential” kitchen helpers include rice cookers, vacuum sealers, and soda makers.[4]

6 Portable Ice Makers

Consumers continue to purchase fresh meats and produce from grocery stores and home-delivery services, but they’re also seeking out items that have a longer shelf life
Sales of frozen and shelf-stable fruit, for example, grew nearly five times the rate of fresh fruit in the first three months of 2020.

Chest freezers were the top-selling appliances on Amazon during the first month of quarantine. This is a response to the initial concerns that supermarkets would run out of food (especially meat). The freezers can also be used to safely store the increasing amounts of food that are now being prepared at home. A vacuum sealer (see #5) is a great add-on to a freezer.

Now that the freezers are in place, portable ice maker machines are dominating the appliances category. Consumers can’t get out to the bars, and they’re wary of drive-through iced coffees and convenience store fountain drinks. So they are opting to make their own refreshing beverages at home.[5]

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5 Eyebrow Razors

Because more people are staying home, overall sales of beauty products (along with apparel) have gone down–about 50 percent year-over-year. But remote workers want to be presentable for Zoom meetings. So, as salons and barber shops were shuttered, consumers sought out products that would enable them to groom their own hair.

Sales of hair clippers increased 166 percent, and hair color rose 23 percent. “People are starting to need a haircut,” McMillon said in April. “You see more beard trimmers and hair color and things like that. It’s interesting to watch the dynamic play out.”

Women’s eyebrow razors are currently among Amazon’s top five beauty and personal care category, as salon waxing and tweezing serves are suspended. Sales of men’s nose and ear hair trimmers peaked and are now on the decline. Fortunately, nose whiskers are slow-growing.[6]

4 Ping Pong Paddles

After urgently addressing their personal protection, food, and grooming needs, consumers looked for ways to fill the hours being spent at home. Puzzles (which were actually trending before COVID-19), colored pencils, and games (Jenga or Connect 4, anyone?) have been in high demand, purchased for at-home use (as well as to send to Grandma and Grandpa to encourage them to stay put). Weirdly, ping pong paddles stand out, as sales are up 89 percent!

As the weather warms, outdoor gems like bubbles, wading pools, and sidewalk chalk are flying off Amazon’s shelves. Exercise apparel and equipment are on the rise, too. Even bird watching items (seed, feeders) were up 91 percent as of early April.[7]

3 Tailbone Relief Cushions

As of late March, about 16 million U.S. knowledge workers began working remotely, converting kitchen islands and dining room tables into home offices. Weeks later, that number is likely much higher.

These telecommuters are burning through personal supplies of copy paper and printer ink and turning to Amazon, Walmart, Staples, and other office supply stores for reams of paper, boxes of envelopes, and packages of high-yield ink cartridges. Packaging tape, Sharpies, and tailbone pain relief cushions round out the top ten.[8]

2 Sticks, Switches, and Dots

For anyone stuck at home, there’s the comfort of home entertainment. Gaming, streaming, and binge watching help to fill the days but are frustrating (if not impossible) without the right equipment.

BGR (Boy Genius Report) rounded up the top-selling electronics among its readers “because everyone is looking for new toys to play with while sheltering in place.” The site found that AirPods are hugely popular, even more so now that they’re selling at the lowest prices ever. But their popularity pales in comparison to Amazon’s real top sellers. Could that mean that families are removing their earbuds in favor of communicating with family?

Streaming media players (or streaming sticks) are hands-down the best-selling electronic. They topped the charts at the start of the lockdown and remain the solid frontrunner. The Roku Streaming stick and the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K can each be had for under $50.

The Nintendo Switch Lite, which was temporarily off the best-seller list only because it was out of stock, is the best of the handheld gaming devices. It can be had now in just about any color, but mostly in pre-owned condition.

The Echo Dot is like having another person in the house. One of Amazon’s best-selling devices of all time, it helps users do just about anything with a mere voice command. Check the weather or top news stories. Request favorite songs. Set thermostats and oven timers. Buy multiple Dots and talk to the rest of the family who are hiding out in their own rooms during lockdown! Because, with or without earbuds, everybody’s still doing their own thing.[9]

1 Poop Bags

Many animal lovers never adopt because they’re not at home enough to adequately care for their pets. But quarantines and lockdowns make it possible to bring in a furry friend!

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Los Angeles saw a 70 percent increase in animals going into foster care. New York City pet shelters experienced a sudden rush of adoptions and fosters. Muddy Paws Rescue and Best Friends Animal Society reported that the shelters they work with were nearly out of cats and dogs: applications were up ten-fold by the end of March. “For the moment, we definitely don’t have any dogs left to match” with foster volunteers,” said Muddy Paws marketing director Anna Lai. “Which is a great problem to have.”

And while the stock market suffered, shares of Chewy Inc. and PedMed Express Inc. soared. Both were up 7 percent by the end of the first quarter. Chewy, with a home-delivery model that is tailor-made for a lockdown, saw a 35 percent increase in sales. And pet supplies (food, litter) are more or less recession-proof.

Meanwhile, over at Amazon, pet nail clippers, flea medicine, fur trimmers, and poop bags top the best-sellers list. Sales leveled off in April as consumers used up their panic-purchase stockpiles, but they remain solid.

Let’s just hope that quarantine foster parents hang on to their newfound pets after the economy gets back up and running again.[10]

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fact checked by Jamie Frater