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<em>Lab Manager</em>&rsquo;s 2021 Purchasing Trends Survey

Lab Manager’s 2021 Purchasing Trends Survey

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, many labs are still thriving and increasing their investments

Sherri Fraser, PhD

Lab Manager’s annual Purchasing Trends Survey provides important information about our readers’ purchasing and budget plans. This data offers insight into emerging trends among lab equipment purchases, the anticipated needs of fellow lab professionals in the upcoming year, and identifies any common priorities across the industry. With the past year’s unique global turmoil, Lab Manager editors recognize that the long-term impact of COVID-19 may be difficult to predict. However, responses from this annual survey generated some intriguing findings and observations. 

How has COVID-19 affected lab professionals?

Despite the limitations imposed by COVID-19 lockdowns, about one-fourth of survey respondents saw increases in their budgets over the past year, with increases noted in every major category. Thankfully, close to half of readers reported no change in their budgets for most spending categories. But, of course, not everyone was this fortunate. “The pandemic put an entire year’s worth of spending on hold and enforced a number of other budget constraints or reductions,” shares one respondent. “The next year will be spent trying to get back on track, but now adapt to our current working model and needs.”

If nothing else, the pandemic has emphasized the need to invest in research and development, and some of our readers’ budgets may be reflecting this. “We will be ramping up post-COVID,” notes another survey participant. 

What changes is your lab planning to make in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?

Purchasing additional safety equipment and PPE61.26%
Stockpiling supplies and reagents42.34%
Restructuring the lab space to allow for physical distancing41.08%
Investing in software for remote work20.90%
Outsourcing applicable tasks13.15%
Other10.27%

Not surprisingly, many respondents (38 percent) feel that COVID-19 has negatively impacted their business conditions. The need to purchase software for remote work and additional safety equipment, including personal protective equipment, are among the unforeseen expenses experienced by these labs. However, global supply chain shortages have impacted everyone, and labs are no different. Consumables and chemical supplies have been running out in many labs and stockpiling has exacerbated such shortages. As expected, the most urgent purchases noted from the survey are consumables, followed by chemicals. However, pipettes and glove boxes are close behind. A shift to research on vaccines and viral diseases could explain the need for glove boxes and up-to-date pipettes for PCR applications.

Who makes the decisions?

Lab Manager readers represent a wide variety of research fields and workplaces. However, the majority of respondents are managers or supervisors. Most of Lab Manager’s respondents work in small- to medium-sized labs—more than 40 percent of those labs are part of much larger institutions, with more than 1,000 people. 

Survey Demographics 

Which of the following best describes your job title?

Answer choices


Lab Manager/Supervisor/Director45%

Research Scientist12%

Academic Professor7%

Chemist5%

Technician5%

QA/QC Manager/Director4%

Corporate Manager3%

Facility Manager3%

Project Manager/Director3%

Principal Investigator2%

Consultant2%

Engineer2%

Academic Student1%

Safety/Risk Manager1%

Purchasing Agent1%

Other4%




When a new purchase is being considered, two-thirds of respondents replied that the lab manager or supervisor initiates the primary request or proposal. However, for about 40 percent of our respondents, the problem or opportunity was initially identified by a research team member. In these cases, the need to advocate for new equipment usually falls to the lab manager. 

As expected, many survey respondents consider price to be very important when researching new purchases. However, our survey results indicate that vendor reputation; compatibility with other systems; support, maintenance, and warranty; or long-term operating costs are all considered equally important. 

Using pre-owned equipment to manage costs

While most labs like to source products that meet their needs regardless of brand, they also consider the cost reduction provided by the purchase of those products as a significant issue. Furthermore, while trying to manage needs and costs, close to half of survey respondents require proven and validated supplies, equipment, and procedures. To balance all of these needs, most of our readers recognize that purchasing pre-owned lab equipment provides possible solutions. Although lab leaders want to save money by purchasing pre-owned equipment, many others are looking for something short term; something compatible with older software or equipment; or they want another piece like the one they have. Explore the benefits of purchasing pre-owned equipment here

Which of the following best describes where you work?

Answer choices



University or College34%

Manufacturing Facility11%

Hospital or Medical Center10%

Industrial Research Lab9%

Clinical Lab8%

Environmental Lab6%

Government5%

Contract Research Lab5%

Consulting Firm3%

Private Research Institution2%

Not-for-Profit2%

Forensic Lab1%

Other4%






Please rate the following factors/features that influence your decision-making process when purchasing products and services. 


Very importantSomewhat importantNot important
Current or previous relationship with vendor56.21%40.10%3.69%
Vendor reputation and brand awareness67.79%
30.70%
1.51%
Vendor’s online presence30.47%
54.55%
14.98%
Vendor representative’s knowledge of industry and technology67.73%
29.08%

3.19%
Compatibility of vendor’s products with current systems74.45%
23.70%

1.85%
Price/value of vendor’s products80.47%
18.52%

1.01%
Vendors ability to innovate and expand on lab product as requirements change52.01%44.30%3.69%
After sale support, maintenance, and warranty75.25%
23.57%

1.18%
Long term efficiency and operating costs74.29%23.70%
2.02%
Application support
62.69%
35.46%1.85%
User-friendly software65.15%32.83%2.02%
Vendor representative’s sales skill
22.73%
55.05%22.22%
Extra features available for the piece of equipment30.30%
58.42%

11.28%

Despite COVID-19 pressures and the changes to every aspect of our lives, most survey respondents have adapted to the situation and are looking forward to their new normal, or maybe even an improvement in their business conditions. Although challenges are plenty, the opportunities arising from the changes abound, and Lab Manager is here to help guide you through them.