The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on nearly every aspect of life over the last 18+ months can’t be overstated. And the effects on research labs has been well documented, from supply chain issues to lab closures and remote work challenges during lockdowns. But despite interruptions, as we saw with so many of Quartzy’s customers, the work largely continued. So it was with interest that we read Lab Manager’s recently released 2021 Purchasing Trends Survey, which provides insights into emerging trends and priorities among lab equipment purchasers in the wake of the pandemic’s darkest days.
Demographically, the survey’s respondents were 45% lab manager/supervisor/directors, with research scientists coming in at 12%. They primarily work at university or college labs (34%), manufacturing facilities (11%) and hospital or medical centers (10%), and a variety of other labs, from industrial research to clinical, environmental to government. A small number work at consulting firms, private research institutions, not-for-profits, and forensic labs.
Although shutdowns created difficult working conditions, nearly half of the survey’s respondents didn’t have their budgets cut and a quarter even saw those budget numbers go up. But it’s what they are doing with those budgets and what’s driving purchasing decisions that provide the most insights. This year’s survey paints a picture of the challenging conditions created by the pandemic, with spending on PPE and safety equipment as well as stockpiling supplies the top answers.
The Ripple Effects of COVID-19
It didn’t come as a shock that the number one change in lab planning as a result of the pandemic was that “more safety equipment and PPE” were being purchased (61%), or that “restructuring lab space to allow for physical distancing” came in third (41%). But we did note that the second biggest change was “stockpiling supplies and reagents” (42%). We’ve seen firsthand the breakdowns in the life sciences supply chain that mirrors the early days of food and essential goods shortages.
Back in the spring of 2020, consumers panic shopped, leaving grocery store shelves empty and the toilet paper aisle bare. McKinsey reported that consumer spending on groceries and supplies was up 29% in March of 2020 from the previous March. While there continue to be ripple effects and lessons learned for the global food supply chain breakdown, there has already been a tremendous amount of innovation to help the industry get back on track.
But for the life sciences field, backorders and shortages continue to plague the industry more than a year and a half later. Recently, Anthony Berndy, a synthetic biology postdoc at the University of California told The Scientist: “You just spend a lot more time being sure you’re absolutely on top of inventory in the lab. We’re spending pretty much every other day quickly checking the stockroom, making sure that we have everything and planning at least six to eight weeks ahead.”
Dedicating an inordinate amount of time on inventory management is one consequence of the continuing supply chain volatility, but another is overspending. PPE and other supplies are now frequently priced multiple times higher than normal, putting researchers in the position of spending more and waiting longer—because their work depends on it.
The Right Vendor Is Key
Under the current conditions, purchasing decisions become even more fraught for lab managers and others responsible for maintaining inventory. Not surprisingly, a whopping 80% of survey respondents said that price/value of a vendor’s products were very important to their decision making process. Other notable priorities cited include user-friendly software (65%), application support (62%), compatibility of vendor’s products with current systems (74%), vendor representative’s knowledge of industry and technology (67%).
These numbers reflect an urgent need for a more seamless purchasing process with a trustworthy vendor. For Quartzy, it’s our reason for being: to allow researchers like Anthony Berndy to get back to his important work in the lab, rather than spend time in the stockroom.
Quartzy’s platform holistically tracks inventory and centralizes the supply ordering process. We work with industry-leading suppliers to keep prices competitively low and provide more than tens of thousands of product options—if a product isn’t in our catalog, we will try to procure it. But most importantly, Quartzy isn’t just innovative, easy-to-use software. Our Life Science Product Specialists have research backgrounds, so we intimately understand the needs and challenges of working in a lab.
Like with the food industry, life sciences can learn lessons from the pandemic to be better prepared for the next crisis, diversifying the supply chain or leaning into automation technology. Because there’s no question that the work happening in labs around the world is too important to be interrupted again.
Learn more about how Quartzy can help overcome today’s top supply management challenges here.