Cranfield University Covid-19 – the danger of consumers substituting product By Rafael Ben-Ari AdobeStock_329236494

Consumers may not be considering the consequences of using alternative products

A consumer “substitution” could create serious consequences for other supply chains that are critical to society and life, warns supply chain academic Professor Richard Wilding OBE.

During the panic buying of toilet paper and other tissue products. consumers may not be considering the consequences of using alternative products for the tasks they were not designed for.

Thames Water is already warning its customers not to use kitchen towel as a substitute for toilet paper. If kitchen towels, baby wipes or industrial papers are used as a replacement for toilet paper, sewage systems could become blocked.

Which could result in chaos and increased health risks associated. Water companies may not have the infrastructure and equipment to unblock the sewer system.

Professor Richard Wilding OBE, Professor of Supply Chain Strategy at Cranfield School of Management said that other substitutes might cause problems:

“A further example of substitutes being purchased is the panic buying of dust masks. As shortages in pharmacies and chemists start to bite, consumers are reported to be turning to building hardware suppliers for face masks and body suits.

“This means builders, tilers and plasterers or other workers who regularly use masks for protection against airborne particulate matter, for instance, are struggling to get hold of this equipment from certain suppliers.”

The construction industry relies on this protective equipment for people to carry out their work. Employers can not expect their staff to continue without it, regulations place a duty of care on every employer to provide the appropriate safety equipment.

“Without such equipment employees are unable to work and companies are subsequently unable to undertake work. UK companies who supply these sectors are starting to feel the strain on certain protective equipment items and this needs to be monitored very carefully.”

When an unrelated supply chain channel causes disruption it is known as a ‘supply chain parallel interaction’. In the above example, the consumer supply of medical face masks is drying up, so customers turn to industry sources.

“Similarly, the substitution of kitchen towels for toilet paper will have a knock-on effect of disrupting the sewage treatment supply chain – causing shortages in their supply chain as a knock-on effect and a disrupting a seemingly unrelated industry.”