Attempts to profiteer from the coronavirus outbreak became so problematic during its early days that companies like Google and Facebook had to ban certain kinds of adverts from their advertising platforms. Identifying opportunities is part and parcel of business and sometimes those “opportunities” may, unfortunately, take the form of tragedies or other people’s misfortunes but this does not make them any less of viable money-making ventures—after all, we have huge industries built around death and ill health. Terminology becomes even more important in such sensitive contexts—instead of the businesses in these spheres being described as “seizing opportunities” it becomes more appropriate to rephrase what they are doing as “identifying and meeting unserved market needs”.

Many businesses have to strike a balance between delivering value and earning reasonable rewards for doing so. This means that the value you deliver to your customers is as important as the profits you earn. However, sometimes the value delivered is itself questionable. This is where the question of quality pops up. Many (but not all) local business people who have taken it upon themselves to produce products that help combat the spread of the coronavirus have shown questionable attitudes towards quality, some of which end up endangering the very safety of their customers.

Aesthetics at the expense of quality

On the 1st of May (2020), the president relaxed some of the lockdown measures enacted earlier the previous month. One of the requirements from the new set of regulations was that people always wear masks outside their homes. Understandably with protective masks set to become integral parts of people’s attires many business people started attempting to make them as visually appealing as possible. Unfortunately, the visual appeal does not contribute much towards how well a mask does its job.

Unlike most clothing accessories these masks are supposed to serve a very specific function. This means that any aesthetic appeal they may have is merely the icing on the cake. In these manufacturers’ defence, how well a mask look does play a major role in customers’ buying decisions. However, this does not mean that the effectiveness of the mask itself in protecting its wearer should take backstage. Designing the best-looking mask you can and then calling it a day to take advantage of the more style-conscious among your customers is unethical as even these people still take it for granted that your product will protect them—do not abuse this trust.

Another example of how these masks look taking precedence over their effectiveness is the increase in the number of branded masks. Since companies are some of the biggest markets for face masks, many firms are hoping to win over these business customers by offering to brand masks with their customers’ logos. This happens at a time when many experts are sceptical of the effectiveness of even the most professionally designed and manufactured masks such as those used by surgeons.

Lack of expert input

The internet has given ordinary people unprecedented access to information on how to build all manner of products. This works well until it comes to things like medical and protective equipment which “fail silently”. The influx of do-it-yourself protective equipment that follows absolutely no standards puts the public at risk. Even established companies which are cashing in on the rise in demand for face masks and hand sanitizers are flooding the market with untested products that have absolutely no input from any trained experts.

This sidelining of experts in product development and testing, rather than being born out of bravado or confidence in their products is most probably brought on by the desire to keep production expenses low and reduce the time to the market instead. Unfortunately, the risk and consequences of products that fail to function as promised sit squarely on the shoulders of the final customer.

We have people who regularly and happily consult accountants, lawyers, electricians and other professionals but dodge expert input when they are developing products whose quality of performance has an even larger impact on human health.

Disregard of standards

Technically face masks and sanitizers are medical supplies which should invite more scrutiny for their manufacturers. Unfortunately due to the unique nature of the circumstances which we are currently in, suppliers of these products have a lot of leeway. Some producers of facemasks are said to be skimping on fabric to produce as many units as possible. One can only guess at the kind of cost-cutting measures being used by their counterparts who are producing hand sanitizers.

With these kinds of shady cost-cutting tactics being used by a lot of local firms, it is highly unlikely that they will embrace the kind of rigorous quality standards demanded by authoritative organisations like SAZ and MCAZ anytime soon. This would seem to indicate that instead of building long-lasting businesses or product lines a lot of these companies just want to squeeze as much money as possible from the market while they can.

In conclusion

While several universities are overseeing the production of face masks and hand sanitizers that would probably hold up well against quality standards, the same cannot be said about the products of their competitors in the private sector. Several local companies—especially smaller ones—have shown that in the absence of competing inputs, they would rather inflate prices and let quality fall by the wayside rather than build and consolidate market share.

The reluctance and failure to appreciate the importance of producing products that conform to the standards set by authoritative organisations also mean that our smaller manufacturers may still have a long way to go before they start exporting their wares.