Consumer Goods in The Soviet Union - Consumer Supply in The 1980s

Consumer Supply in The 1980s

In the 1980s shortages continued in basic consumer items, even in major population centers. Such goods occasionally were rationed in major cities well into the 1980s. Besides the built-in shortages caused by planning priorities, shoddy production of consumer goods limited actual supply. Poor work practices such as shturmovshchina were partly to blame for quality problems.

Analyzing shortages in Soviet Union showed very uneven distribution among the population. For example, both Moscow and Leningrad, which were heavily visited by foreigners, were supplied much better than the rest of the country and did not have rationing until the late 1980s. Similarly, presence of goods on the shelves in a state store in a minor city often could simply mean that these goods were rationed and could not be bought at will. But in most cases shortages simply meant either empty shelves or long waiting lines. There were also some hidden channels of good distribution; for example, in many cases goods were directly distributed/sold at places of work totally bypassing the store shelves.

While it was often possible to buy meat, milk and most kinds of produce on farmers markets (Russian: колхозный рынок), the prices there were typically 2-4 times higher than in state stores and the availability was highly seasonal.

During the 1980s, the wide availability of consumer electronics products in the West demonstrated a new phase of the Soviet Union's inability to compete, especially because Soviet consumers were becoming more aware of what they were missing. In the mid-1980s, up to 70% of the televisions manufactured by Ekran, a major household electronics manufacturer, were rejected by quality control inspection. The television industry received special attention, and a strong drive for quality control was a response to published figures of very high rates of breakdown and repair. To improve the industry, a major cooperative color television venture was planned for the Warsaw Television Plant in 1989.

Western specialists regarded the quality of goods available to be poor when judged by their standards and by the end of the 1980s, shortages became worse. By the time of the Soviet Union's collapse at the end of 1991, nearly every kind of food was rationed. Non-rationed foods and non-food consumer goods had virtually disappeared from state owned stores. While the gap was partially filled by non-state stores which started to appear in the mid 1980s, the prices in non-state stores were often 5-10 times higher than in state stores and were often out of reach for the general population.

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