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COVID-19 Shopping: Website Locates Hard To Find Items Near You

Empty shelves during COVID-19 - this photo was taken in March 2020
Empty shelves during COVID-19 - this photo was taken in March 2020 Photo Credit: Wonderlane from Seattle, USA -,

As stores sell out of staple items - such as toilet paper and hand soap - ahead of what could be another isolating COVID-19 winter, there’s a website that helps people locate difficult to find items in their areas.

It’s called InStok. The website and accompanying app were recently developed by two University of Texas students who saw their parents struggle to find hand sanitizer and other popular items in March.

InStok tracks the availability of in-demand items at Target, Walmart, Sam’s Club, eBay, CVS, and Walgreens. The results are local and include price estimates.

The app is available at a time when people are starting to "panic shop," a term used to describe the hoarding behavior shoppers display ahead of a disaster such as a tornado or third-wave of a pandemic.


A search for toilet paper in the Hartford area on Friday around 11: 30 a.m., provided some interesting results. At the time …

  •  The super-soft is the first to go: Target was all out of the extra cushy kind of paper, but likely had a more rough variety available, InStok said.
  • Scott is a popular brand: Walmart and Walgreens were sold out of multiple Scott paper products
  • Price-gouging: The TP listed on eBay seemed to be priced in-line with the market rate. Independent sellers may dramatically overinflate the value of hard-to-find items - it happened last winter with items such as hand sanitizer and paper products.

In addition to InStok, private, regional Facebook groups have popped up dedicated to sharing information about where to find sparsely stocked items.

Some of the items expected to be in high demand this season, according to USAToday are: hand sanitizer, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes and sprays, dumbbells, puzzles, face masks, patio heaters, Nintendo Switches, yeast, and thermometers.

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