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Will supply chain crisis hurt or help overall product quality?

It’s “survival of the fittest” vs. “fill shelves with anything available.” On one hand, the most fit product manufacturers, in some cases at least, will be the ones best able to keep supplies on hand during the supply chain crisis. They think ahead. They figure out solutions. They overcome obstacles.

On the other hand, empty shelves and out-of-stock notices hurt reputations and make shopping less attractive. To fill the void, some retailers are offering anything they can get their hands on to fill the pipeline and communicate the appearance of ample supplies.

So, this is a tricky situation. And both issues likely will show up anywhere you go presently to shop. To complicate matters further, there’s also the issue of retailer fitness. As with manufacturers, some retailers will think ahead and figure out solutions—while others will just take what they can get. In some cases, this will be low-quality merchandise.

Given this murky state of affairs, it’s up to consumers to do their homework to find the best merchandise that, in turn, represents high-quality customer service performance. Here are basic steps to take to improve chances of getting the best stuff:

1. Look at long-term retailer reputation and situation. OK, back to Costco. Given their long and storied tradition of doing right by customers in so many areas, it’s likely they will do well here, too—at least in contrast to other retailers. Costco also carries a few thousand products compared to the much larger inventories of such stores as Walmart—meaning that Costco has fewer slots to fill and therefore a better chance of plugging gaps with quality products. That said, I noticed recently that they were out of a traditional chicken bone broth and had substituted a vegetable product in the shelf space. Takeaways:

  • If you’re looking for a particular product(s) at a brick-and-mortar store, call first to check inventory;
  • Figure out a substitution strategy. In my case, I bought the vegetable broth. I’m maintaining flexibility in protein choices—from poultry to pork. I’ll buy based on supply and price criteria.

In the case of a major online retailer like Amazon, consider Prime vs. non-Prime product choices. In general, Prime has a good reputation for on-time delivery and supportive customer service. As far as product quality, I believe that Prime products, in some cases at least, have been more widely reviewed and rated than non-Prime—and may be a safer quality bet. That said, still be discerning and show diligence in checking out potential purchases before completing an order.

2. Look at the reputation of the product manufacturer and the specific product. Then, make buying choices based on availability of suitable products at an acceptable price. Some manufacturers have great reputations for certain products, poor reputations for others. As much as possible, check out the specific product as well as the manufacturer. This is particularly important with relatively obscure product lines featured on such mega-platforms as Amazon.

And, when it comes to product reviews and ratings, don’t just rely on Amazon’s review/rating numbers—even if impressive. Compare and contrast with a few other online review/rating sources, and check to see if there have been recent upticks in complaints, recalls, or other problems.

It’s gonna be a roller coaster ride, in part thanks to supply chain snafus. Buckle up and do your due diligence to get the best customer service outcomes.

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Great products are part of a great customer experience. Costco has figured this out. In addition to favorable pricing and excellent treatment, Costco has earned a reputation for carrying reputable products. While it’s not a perfect system, more often than not customers can buy products with confidence—figuring that only the crème de la crème will make the Costco cut. Because Costco carries a relatively narrow range of products compared to such mega-retailers as Amazon, they can be highly selective. What happens to product reliability, however, as the range and sheer number of products increase?

Mark Lusky

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