Do Consumers Actually Participate In Recalls? (No.)

Despite all the hand-wringing on our part, we consumers don’t actually participate in recalls at a very high level. This leaves both manufacturers and the CPSC in the dark about whether their warnings are reaching the right people—which is why the House approved a bill this Tuesday that would require manufacturers of certain infant and toddler products to keep registration info on their customers.

Here are a couple of examples of how poorly we participate. Last year, Target recalled nearly 200,000 units of lead-tainted Kool Toyz. They received only 766, less than 1%. And this year, they recalled 5,000 Anima Bamboo Collector Games—and none were returned. Mattel averages a 6% return rate. (The one exception in the article is RC2, which says it managed to get 70% of their defective train products returned by September.)

A lot of parents simply throw out the products, which is a lot less work than returning them to the store or manufacturer, especially when current recall announcements make the effort for busy parents seem like too much of a hassle. The CPSC says the problem with that is it doesn’t provide them with data they need to fine-tune future recalls.

But because most industries rely on the media to get the word out about recalls, there’s no guarantee the right people will hear the right information before it’s swallowed up by the next cycle of stories. In fact, the new bill is named after 16-month-old who smothered in a defective crib that was recalled five years previously, but his parents and the caretakers at the daycare center where the accident occurred had never heard about the recall.

According to some safety advocates, the best solution would be to piggy-back on motor vehicle registration:

Consumers would be better served if the registration required when they buy a car or truck were extended to other products. That way, they would get a letter when an item was recalled. Vehicle recall response rates are among the highest, at about 72% in recent years, said Eric Bolton, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the meantime, however, you can submit your email to the CPSC to receive alerts whenever a recall is issued, which (we hate to say it) is probably a better way to stay up-to-date than reading about it here.

“Many recalled, few returned” [LA Times]

Online Form for CPSC Email Alerts [CPSC]
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. LetMeGetTheManager says:

    Cable companies should start carrying “Recall Channels”…something along the lines of QVC, but with products you should return.

  2. MountainRooster says:

    Despite the privacty concerns, I think if a consumer purchases anything using a loyalty card and it is recalled, the customer should be contacted by the store. Perhaps a universal card could be created to work with all vendors for just this purpose.

  3. Anonymous says:

    So I can be denied a purchase if I don’t want to be registered in a database?

  4. UpsetPanda says:

    I feel that when it comes to children, certain precautions should be taken. Adults will do what they will, but if it endangers a child’s life, perhaps there should be some database to notify parents who buy that product that it is under a recall. It’s sad people don’t pay enough attention.

  5. Beerad says:

    You know what would be a really great idea? If we all got tattooed bar codes on our necks that were scanned at checkout, and then all our purchases could easily be correlated with our personal information. That would totally solve the problem!

  6. amoeba says:

    How funny (in a way, of course) I just went to get my mail (today), and I got a recall postcard from Graco. I purchased a Crib for my nephew 4 years ago. Anyway, I have no idea how my name got registered to get this postcard with X recall crib numbers. I just dispatched the info into my pile of recycling :) + I careless. As far as I know; I don’t have kids, my nephew’s mother threw away the crib after she divorced my brother. No children is in danger as far I know. The interesting thing, Graco says in the notice is that “it will take 6-8 week to get the “kit” to repair the Crib.

  7. RandomHookup says:

    What’s the participation rate in auto recalls, where the initial owner is registered and the chain of custody is pretty easy to discern? If that’s low, then forget about other product recalls…even if they track and contact the purchasers.

  8. Anonymous says:

    i bought a jeep used from an individual. the exhaust rattled real bad, but they assured me they had recalled it and i could get it fixed for free. i thought to myself, why didn’t you do it already? i came to find out that they were right. took it into a dealership, 2 hours later, no rattling exhaust. when i told the individual about how easy it was to do, they were mad that they sold me the vehicle because they thought it was more work than what it was. (the only reason they sold the jeep was becuase of the rattle.) so that tells me that not everybody even does the vehicle recalls.

  9. RandomHookup says:

    @INconsumer: I’ve done several auto recalls (all minor stuff) and everything was quite painless (considering it involved a trip to a dealership).

  10. technotica says:

    Vehicle recall information is super easy to set up even if you have bought a vehicle from a private owner or non-dealer. My husband set it up from some online site (I’ll dig up a link later) and we get recall notices by mail. Also just from looking at GM’s website, you can set up recall notices in there. I would imagine other car manufacturers would include this information.

    Again with these silly nanny laws. I can protect myself thank you very much.

  11. magic8ball says:

    If they’re going to mandate that my personal and demographic information be registered when I buy certain products, they had better also mandate that the information cannot be used for marketing in any way, shape, or form, and that it cannot be shared without my express permission in any way, shape or form.

  12. DrGirlfriend says:

    A registration process for buying what kind of stuff? Things like cribs, or are we going all the way down to the toy level? At a certain point, isn’t that incredibly combersome?

  13. DrGirlfriend says:

    I meant cumbersome.

  14. UpsetPanda says:

    @INconsumer: That guy was just an idiot. Anyone whose car makes an abnormal noise would normally take it in to get it looked at. I mean, a car is a big investment, even if you only pay $1 for it. Unless you take it out once a month, you figure keeping it in working condition and in good condition is vital. Selling the car versus taking it to a mechanic to determine the cost of fixing is only feasible if you have another vehicle and don’t care enough for this one.

  15. alice_bunnie says:

    Exactly. Do I need to show ID and register in a national databases to buy an infant car seat??

  16. EvilSquirrel says:

    I have friend who works for Kmart that always makes sure the customers are informed about current recalls. They were yelled at by their boss because their boss interpreted this as hurting the reputation of the store and the company.

    Oh and this Kmart posts their recalled products list on the back of a post behind the customer service kiosk where barely any of the customers are ever going to be.

  17. TedOnion says:

    The first step we take should be to reduce the number of unsafe products sold. Perhaps a good way to do that would be to require any company which sells a product which is recalled to pay for advertising to notify consumers of the recall.

  18. Namilia says:

    @EvilSquirrel: The JC Penney near here posts their recalls in the Catalog department where most customers more than likely won’t see them unless they stop to read them on their way to the bathroom (Or they happen to do business at the Catalog desk)

    They are clearly visible, but since the average customer is not going to pass them, most people don’t read the alerts. Posting them at every register in a store (any store) would be the most visible means to get the information out, but would clutter the register area, especially with how many recalls there have been as of late. I suppose it is the best way to post them in a store (posting at CS desk) for now, but better consumer information certainly would not be amiss.

  19. Namilia says:

    @TedOnion: Your suggestion certainly would be a better way to get the word out, however, it would certainly have to be law and not this “voluntary” crap. If recalling an item means the cost of the recall + cost of advertising that will almost certainly hurt business + reprocussions of entire debacle, most companies would not be interested in advertising if they could help it I think because the magnitude of ramifications from the recall would be so much more intense and profits would almost certainly suffer even more than a quiet recall with a warning posted on CPSC’s website and the odd media coverage.

  20. mconfoy says:

    I tried to participate in the Magnetix recall. I called and emailed and was never sent anything to send the toy back in. I told Consumerist about the lack of response, but they did not respond either.

  21. mariser says:

    people do act in unrational ways. the wife of a friends threw out a toybox full of “Thomas the Tank Engine” toys (of different types/makes/models), the moment she heard about the recall.

    …our friend was/is pissed –

  22. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Costco does this already.
    I’ve gotten a couple of recall notices from them over the years.