This is Why Commissary Shelves Are Often Empty

Commissary Shelves Are Often Empty
A commissary worker cleans and restocks the shelves. (DVIDS/Courtesy Photo)

Ever notice that commissary shelves are often mysteriously empty? It's one of the top complaints I've read from commissary shoppers. Items -- regardless of whether they carry a special price that day or not -- are just gone.

Where are the people who add stuff to the shelves when they are gone? Why is the thing you want missing for weeks at a time? Why, why, why?

A report commissioned by the Defense Department sheds some light on the restocking process -- and why they are often empty.

The first thing to know is that, with the exception of a few categories (like produce) and stores (overseas), commissary employees rarely stock shelves. Instead, the commissary or the vendors who supply the goods hire subcontractors to do the job. Commissary employees often do the work only if the goods are available and the contractors fail to stock them, the report says.

So what's the problem?

Regulations make it hard to get poor-performing contractors to change their ways in a timely way. And that means shelves stay empty while commissary officials work through the complaint process.

"While a small percentage of the out-of-stocks stem from unanticipated spikes in patron demand, a much great proportion is typically caused by a lack of supplier, contractor, and vendor stocker effectiveness," the report, prepared by the Boston Consulting Group and presented to Congress, said. "The process for informing a contractor of underperformance involves several stages including several rounds of discussion and letters with the contractor and 10-day period for contractors to correct the issue."

And all that time? You're just waiting for there to be more Cheerios. The struggle is real.

Yeah, yeah, yeah -- "so just go to Walmart." OK, that's great for people with access to a Walmart. But many commissaries are located in rural locations where going to a different store isn't exactly an option.

So what does the report recommend doing about this? Skip the contractors and have commissary employees stock the shelves instead, the report says.

Making that happen is way more complicated than you'd expect thanks to the federal systems of which commissary employees are currently a part. The report recommends moving them to a different system, in part to solve problems like this one. But that would come with a pay and benefits cut, possibly for both new and existing employees. And since a majority of commissary employees are also military family members, that's going to hit families where it hurts, too. (You can read more about that over here).

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