The last few weeks have been chaotic, to say the least. From a distant and diffuse threat, the coronavirus epidemic turned into a pandemic and became a worldwide emergency. The rapid pace at which the situation evolved has generated concern among many people – and, occasionally, even panic.

Advice from government and the health authorities urges citizens to stay indoors as much as possible and to practice so-called “social distancing.” It’s no surprise, then, that a good portion of Americans have wanted to make sure they have enough food and household supplies for a few weeks.

That’s not a bad idea – fewer trips to the supermarket definitely help us reach that social distancing goal and reduce the rate of new infections. But don’t overdo it. Even in countries that were hit very hard, like Italy, stores and supermarkets have not run out of supplies.

Ordering online became more popular than ever – in fact, Amazon is planning to expand its workforce by 100,000 to be able to meet demand.

As self storage professionals, we are monitoring the online activity related to our industry, and we noticed a considerable spike on a particular term associated with it – “food storage.” Google Trends quantifies interest for a certain term on a scale from 0 to 100 points. Zero means that very few people are searching for that particular term, while 100 signifies peak interest. While interest in “food storage” normally stands at around 40, it has now spiked to 100.

This sudden increase is definitely related to the coronavirus pandemic, so we decided to check out the online interest for other common products and services people tend to buy right now, from food to cleaning supplies to medicines. Here are the most sought-after products in the online environment during this period of emergency, lockdowns and reduced social contact that is happening all across the US.

People are stocking up on basic foods

If, one year ago, during the third week of March 2019, online searches for “2 weeks supply of food list” were basically zero, now the interest for this particular search term is spiking at 100, which means Americans are following advice from the authorities and taking steps to stay mostly indoors and isolated.

Online interest for bottled water rose from 22 a year ago to 88 as of right now – and during the previous week, March 8 to 14, it stood at 100. The term “food supply” now generates a lot more searches than it normally does – from 20 basis points in March 2019, it grew to 70 points in February 2020 and now scores the complete 100.

Canned foods are also in huge demand online, with the volume of searches for this item rising from an average value of around 30 throughout the past 12 months to 95 during the second week of March and 100 this week.

Finding out whether they should freeze milk or not is of great importance for Americans right now. A year ago, searches for this term were very few, at 3 on Google’s Trends scale, but they now also reached peak popularity, at 100.

Pasta and all-purpose flour also gained in popularity online, from around 26 points a year ago to 100 now, and rightly so – it’s scientifically proven that social distancing is a lot easier to comply with in the presence of carbs. Unfortunately, for some of us, that’s not an option – online searches for “gluten free emergency food supply” jumped from an index of zero a year ago to 100 as of now.

Americans are also trying to avoid going to the supermarket in person, something which is clearly shown by an influx of “grocery store delivery” online searches – Google Trends shows 100 points of interest for the term, compared with 31 points on a regular basis.

Cleaning supplies are on everyone’s shopping list

Searches for “cleaning supplies” in general increased dramatically in the last couple of weeks. Google Trends quantified the interest for that particular search at 26 points during the third week of March 2019, but it has now peaked at 100.

The one thing Americans simply can’t do without is toilet paper, which rose in online interest from close to zero throughout most of last year to 70 points during the second week of March and 100 this week.

The interest for “cleaning wipes” was around 13 for most of the past 12 months, but started to increase early-March, reaching values of 41 points during the first week of March 2020, 86 points during the second week of the month, and 100 points currently.

Hand soap, which generated low volumes of online searches from March 2019 to February 2020, quantified by Google Trends at around 14, suddenly jumped to 87 points during the second week of March and to a round 100 at this moment in time.

Diapers are a pretty hot topic in the US all the time, as Google Trends quantifies the interest for this search term at around 60 for most of the past year, but this week the item reached the peak 100-point popularity.

Health-related items generate a lot of online searches

Hand sanitizer is on everyone’s shopping list these days, a reality perfectly mirrored by Google Trends numbers. Online searches for “hand sanitizer” grew from an insignificant volume in March 2019, quantified by Google at 1, to 100 during the second week of March 2020 and to 88 points this week.

Paracetamol, a very useful medicine if you get a fever, also ranks high on people’s list of interests – online searches for this OTC drug grew from a very modest value of 3 points for most of the past 12 months to 100 points now.

Interestingly enough, searches for “surgical masks” registered peak popularity, 100 points, during the last week of February 2020, up from a meagre 2 points for the most part of the last year. In March, search volumes for this item dropped to around 60 – so either people are all stocked up on surgical masks or a lot of them stay at home and do not need masks anymore.

Fever is one of the first symptoms of the new virus, so no wonder that people are stocking up on thermometers. Google Trends puts the volume of online searches for this item at 100 points, up from 12 points in March 2019. Americans are also looking into Vitamin C, which rose in online searches from 29 points a year ago to 82 points during the second week of March 2020 and 100 points this week.

What people in the lockdown cities are looking for right now

Americans living in cities on lockdown, such as New York or San Francisco, are relying heavily on online shopping, and they are more or less searching for the same types of items as the rest of the nation. However, regional differences are interesting to notice.

Houstonites, for example, should be pretty well supplied with hand sanitizer by now – the volume of online searches for this item dropped from 100 points during the second week of March 2020 to a more modest 72 points right now. They’re also less interested in food storage compared to the rest of the nation – the volume of searches for “food storage” is at  78, down from 100 points the week before.

New Yorkers are very interested in all-purpose flour and freezing milk, as both terms register online search volumes of 100 points. However, it appears that they’re OK with tap water, as the volume of searches for “bottled water” stands at 69 points.

The interest in surgical masks in San Francisco is rather low, as Google Trends puts a value of 30 points on this particular search term. However, all-purpose flour is in high demand even among the health-conscious Californians, at 100 points.

In Seattle, the first major American city seriously hit by the pandemic, people worry about storing their food supplies – the term “storage food” this week reached 100 points in popularity. Searches for toilet paper, cleaning supplies and hand soap are also surging, registering 100 points in popularity.

Emergency supplies you can keep in self storage – and the ones you can’t

Generally speaking, in cases of emergency, such as now, some people like to make sure they have enough basic supplies of food and household items to hand. However, stockpiling food and other supplies doesn’t help. Supermarkets and pharmacies remain open even during emergencies, and by panic buying huge quantities of products you’re creating problems for other people and for the entire supply chain.

If you’re considering renting a self storage unit to keep your extra supplies during this period, here are some important things you should know.

  • Self storage facilities are pretty safe, since they don’t see a lot of foot traffic, and facility managers are currently paying extra attention to regularly cleaning and disinfecting surfaces.
  • Storing any type of fresh foods in a storage unit is definitely not allowed. When it comes to canned or dried foods, such as rice, flour, cereal, and so on, you’ll have to contact the storage facility, because some of them allow these types of items while others don’t.
  • If it turns out that the self storage provider allows food storage and you decide to keep canned and dried foods in a self storage locker, make sure you get a climate-controlled unit for extra safety.
  • Cleaning supplies can be kept in a storage unit, as long as they’re in their original containers and unopened, to avoid dangers associated with the chemicals spilling or evaporating in a small, confined space.
  • You can definitely keep extra toilet paper in a storage unit, should you decide that it’s worth the effort.
  • You should not keep medicines in a storage unit – or buy so much medicine that you need extra storage space for it.

Find out more about how you can protect yourself and others during the pandemic, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the World Health Organization. Johns Hopkins is tracking the COVID-19 spread in real time and is also modeling the spread of the virus. Stay safe, everyone!


Maria Gatea is a real estate and lifestyle editor for Yardi with a background in Journalism and Communication. After covering business and finance-related topics as a freelance writer for 15 years, she is now focusing on researching and writing about the real estate industry. You may contact Maria via email.

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