Recall Reactions

News

Since last August, moms across the nation have been bombarded by mass recalls of popular toys, and even a portable crib. Though recalls are nothing new, they are becoming all too familiar, not to mention dangerous.

While most consumers rely on the media as their primary source of information, retailers should leverage internal technology to keep loyal customers in the know.

Moms nationwide shuddered in August when Mattel and Fisher-Price jointly announced a mass recall of approximately 9 million of their best-selling toys that reportedly contained lead paint.

A month later, 1 million portable cribs sold under both the Simplicity and Graco brands were recalled because the drop rail on some models could detach from the crib. What was the reason for the recall? The railing was blamed for the deaths of at least three children. (This was called the largest crib recall since the 1970s.)

In November, another recall hit the scene. Aqua Dots, an arts-and-crafts-style toy that consists of colored beads, was recalled in Australia after three children were hospitalized after swallowing the beads. The product was subsequently recalled in the United States.

The toy was not blamed for being a choking hazard. Instead, a coating on the beads can be toxic when ingested in large quantities. Toys “R” Us proactively pulled the unit from its shelves.

While the media is a great way to get the word out, the Internet is proving to be a more relevant source of information. For example, U.S. government-sponsored www.recalls.gov is one outlet available to parents to stay abreast of potential problems.

While this is a great start, I don’t think this is enough. The retail community also needs to leverage its online strategies to keep its customer-base informed and safe.

Toys “R” Us is pioneering this concept. Mid-September, Gerald L. Storch, the toy retailer’s chairman and CEO, sent a mass e-mail to all “valued guests” listed in its customer database.

In short, the company promised to uphold the safety of its consumers’ children by establishing a micro-site, www.Toysrus.com/safety , which compiles product-safety and recall information. The chain also added Safety Boards at store level, which display important product-safety information, including recall notices.

Following its mass recall, Mattel created its own online recall page. This enabled moms (including me) to peruse a toy catalog and checklist to learn which toys were dangerous to children.

These are all great efforts. Yet, there is much more work to be done. For example, we know retailers can program their point-of-sale systems with software that creates rebate forms. Why not add a similar solution for recall notifications?

Almost all infant and toddler products, and even some toys, come with recall certifications. Rather than trust consumers to mail in these forms following a purchase, maybe chains can electronically create these forms at the POS as the merchandise is scanned during checkout. Retailers can enable consumers to electronically (and privately) fill out forms at electronic-payment terminals or dedicated kiosks.

While this may sound a little “pie-in-the-sky,” it could be a step in the right direction. Recalls are unfortunate, and sadly inevitable. However, members of the retail community are taking a stand. And this mom is applauding their efforts.

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