COVID-19 supply chain disruptions still trouble consumers, but we can't blame China

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The ability to deliver goods from manufacturers to retailers was interrupted when the coronavirus pandemic hit, making many products more scarce. An expert in supply chain management says the problem is much bigger than disruptions in any one country.

China is called "the world's marketplace" because so much is made there, but those factories reopened months ago, and the supply chain is still forcing delays in many products.

Dr. Subodha Kumar, a professor of marketing and supply chain management at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, says other countries -- Mexico, India, Brazil -- also contribute products, which are now hard to get because they are experiencing shutdowns.

And in the U.S., he said, "a lot of factories are still not operating at full capacity because people get sick, or sometimes trucks have to shut down their business because drivers are not available, and so on."

He says the interruptions are also affecting retailers and manufacturers.

In the meantime, Kumar said, consumers have had to change their shopping habits, but they are also operating from a position of scarcity.

"They are buying more, just on the fear of 'What if I don’t get to have something?'" he said.

Kumar says consumers are also more flexible now, because they have to be. Brand loyalty isn’t going to work if that brand is not available.

One example he gives is Italy, which is the biggest supplier of cheese to the U.S., and possibly the world. He says those specialty cheeses may not be available, so consumers have to go to Plan B or even Plan C.

Kumar says results from a recent survey by Lending Tree show the average consumer spending $190 a week on groceries now, compared to $163 before the pandemic. That’s an increase of 17%.

Kumar said one reason for this is people cooking more at home. Before March, he said, more people were able to eat out, and now they don't have that option.

And he says the situation is not going to change anytime soon. He predicts the disruption in the supply chain will remain for three or four months.

In the long run, he says, consumers may be more tolerant of other products and give them a try, which could work to the benefit of many retailers and manufacturers.

He says the shortage of products is also seen with appliances and exercise equipment. Kumar says there is a great demand for small appliances, such as instant pots and air fryers, because people thought restaurants would be less restricted by now. He also says consumers thought the gyms would be open, leading to a run on exercise equipment such as stationary bikes.

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