The Great Aussie Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020
So here’s a thing happening in the land down-under that may not have penetrated the coronavirus Super Tuesday news wall in your country. Australia is on the verge of riots. Panic in the streets. Literal knives pulled out in grocery stores over household staples. For the past few days, there is nationwide chaos and fear gripping the population. People are hoarding goods and turning against each other.
Because toilet paper. Ordinary rolls of toilet paper.
Stories of goods, such as batteries and hand sanitiser, potentially coming up in short supply have been trickling into media cycles but nothing had hit the headlines. Then the first Australian death was recorded, a rare bit of attention for Western Australia, and the sensationlist news media started looking for fresh angles to scare old white people with. Rumour has it that this started with Channel 7, one of the big five networks in Australian broadcast, where the fucknuckle “journalists” claimed that most Australian toilet paper was imported from China and supplies will dry up. I couldn’t find anything to confirm this starting point, but the term ‘fucknuckle’ still applies.
Whatever prompted this, a large number of alarmist Australians got it into their heads that a toilet paper shortage was nigh. Within days, nay…hours, you would need a hefty supply of bogroll in your house or you would have to…do without.
People rushed into the shopping centres and started panic buying. Pain killers, medicinal wipes, soap, nappies, pasta, rice…they were disappearing off the shelves and the hoarders swept through the aisles with bulging trolleys. And there was one thing they wanted more than anything. Toilet paper.
At this point there were roughly 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia, out of a population of almost 25 million people. Regardless, rumours and a tactless media have got people flooding the stores with an intent to horde. This may not seem like a big deal…until human nature takes over. When regular shoppers see groups of people loading up on toilet paper to an unusual degree…
…you begin to wonder what’s happening. You don’t want to be the one left out so you start grabbing packets. You hear that the coronavirus is coming and toilet paper is running out so you stock up. The shelves are emptying. Word starts spreading…the shelves are empty. You know this is just a bunch of gullible idiots losing their heads over nothing. You’re smarter than that. On the other hand you haven’t got the groceries for the week yet…and you needed to buy toilet paper…you’d better get to the shops and grab some while you still can!
Things started to get wild. Stores have limited shoppers to first four, then two packs per person. People got pushy. Then the fights broke out. Allegedly one bloke pulled a knife over toilet paper rolls. After the traditional Australian challenge had been issued…
…the cops showed up and tased the guy.
And now Australian shops have run out of toilet paper. Those living paycheck to paycheck, or couldn’t get to the shops, are out of luck because the lunatics, the ones caught up in the panic and the ones who wanted to play it safe have bought everything. Meanwhile, the media who started this stupidity, or still milking it.
It’s been four days of largely empty shelves across this great, sandy land and there’s a few concerning things to take away from the ongoing experience.
Firstly, there’s the complete failure of our major supermarket chains to manage in a crisis. Both Coles and Woolworths (‘Woolies’ to the locals, we haven’t worked out how to abbreviate ‘Coles’) have been hit the hardest. These two companies are part of the Australian suburban landscape and heavily market themselves as embodying Australian values. They’re both very big on the community angle, running competitions for local schools, sponsoring children’s footy teams and being true-Aussie blokes. They both have store branded goods and broadly boast about their Australian-based manufacturing. Yet when the people of Australia have a crisis, they both proved shockingly inept.
Their shelves remain empty, staff are unwilling or unable to enforce customer restrictions and they are completely failing to stay on top of customer service. We had ordered a delivery of groceries last week and expected them yesterday. They didn’t arrive. Normally we’d get a call or a message if they were late, but this time it was total silence. The next morning we text the help line. No reply. Twelve hours later we call the customer service line where we were put on hold.
Two hours later and I’m still on hold. The hold music was on a very short loop. Eventually a very tired sounding man took my call. He was apologetic. I asked about the wait and he told me that although it was a late hour they still had more than 3000 people on hold, and they hadn’t gotten to text messages yet. They hadn’t hired extra staff to manage the situation. He resolved our issue and I wished him luck. This was a nothing problem. I had the most simple of first world problems. We’d paid, they hadn’t delivered, and we wanted our money back. The major store couldn’t handle it in a resonable amount of time because they had failed to manage a crisis.what happened this week.
Both major chains had completely failed to meet demand and met basic customer service expectations. This wasn’t a real crisis, so perhaps we could consider this a fire drill. A test for if and when there’s a genuine public health crisis. Based on the past few days, we’d be screwed. If demand skyrockets and the supermarket chains get put under pressure they will likely buckle real fast. I’m not saying that I have the solution, but I am saying that I’m increasingly concerned about how Australia is going to manage a real threat. This toilet paper panic guarantees that the next time around it’s going to be substantially worse because we’ve seen what happened this week
Maybe we can rely on our powerful and wise leadership to steer the ship right…but then you remember the absolute dog’s breakfast our Prime Minister made of the recent bushfire disaster. He pissed off the a Hawaiian holiday. Frontline firefighters refused to shake his hand.
A couple of shonky, unconfirmed television news stories drove the Australian population into a toilet paper buying frenzy. Meanwhile, warehouse workers in South Australia are posting photos of enormous toilet paper stocks ready to be shipped to stores on Reddit. Naturally many people took sensationlist and ratings obsessed news networks as face value and lost their minds. The leadership is garbage and the population is ready to pop. I think it’s safe to say that a week after a real crisis, Australia is going to look like this:
I feel sorry for the staff who have no control just getting abuse.
I keep seeing stories about people panic buying and, every time, toilet paper is mentioned. I rally don’t get it — what’s so special about toilet paper?
And, pausing for a moment, if anyone really needs to stock up to that extent then they have a problem that no amount of panic buying is going to solve.