Special Report

What Americans Bought to Prepare for the Pandemic

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Health/household: Toilet paper

No other item has been more emblematic of pandemic panic buying than toilet paper. According to Coupon Follow, it was the most often-bought non-food item (63% of survey respondents picked some up), and it showed the second-highest jump in shoppers saying they purchased more toilet paper than usual at 56% (rice, lentils, and/or beans combined hit 57%). Exactly why people hoarded this sanitary necessity is something of a mystery. Some analysts suggest that buying it is a kind of “retail therapy,” somehow comforting people or helping them deal with uncertainty. Early hoarding may also have had a snowball effect: When people see supplies of a product dwindling, they tend to grab what’s left.

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Health/household: Disinfectant sprays and wipes

The reason for the jump in sales for these items is obvious, which is why consumers bought a stunning 519% more aerosol disinfectants this year than last, according to Nielsen. In addition, 52% of those polled by Coupon Follow said they’d bought sprays or wipes. The EPA has published a five-page brand-specific list of wipes and other products that are strong enough to kill the coronavirus.

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Health/household: Thermometers

After aerosol (spray) disinfectants, says the Nielsen report, the category that saw the most dramatic year-over-year jump in pandemic-related sales was thermometers. Places of business, public transportation, and other potentially crowded facilities around the world now check temperatures with touchless instruments, while many at home use conventional thermometers daily. While fever is a common symptom of COVID-19, medical authorities note that it’s possible to be infected without showing a fever, especially in the first few days after exposure.

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Health/household: Paper towels

The Nielsen report notes that sales of these common paper products rose 154% this March compared with last year, and Coupon Follow records them as the second most popular non-food item consumers purchased as the pandemic hit. Some 57% said they’d bought them, and 42% said they bought more than usual. Besides their myriad household uses in ordinary times, paper towels can be used to apply disinfecting solutions to surfaces and are recommended as the best way to dry hands after a thorough washing.

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Health/household: Hand sanitizer

Coupon Follow found that respondents to its survey bought 54% more hand sanitizer in preparation for the pandemic than they would ordinarily. The Nielsen report logged a 208% increase in sales for such products. While the frequent use of hand sanitizers is recommended, the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) reminds us that proper handwashing with soap and water is still the best way to control virus transmission.

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