Antidote Sought for Recall Fatigue
By Bernice Hurst, Contributing Editor, RetailWire
In a world where people resent
being told what to do and buy, many now apparently resent being told to return
items purchased that have been found to be flawed. Persuading the public to
act on product recalls has become increasingly fraught as the number of recalls
increases, according to a report in The Washington
Companies instigating food recalls just for the month of June included
Kellogg’s and Campbell. In addition, seven companies recalled
two million cribs.
Jeff Farrar, associate commissioner for food protection at
the Food and Drug Administration, is concerned because numbers are "steadily
going up, and it’s difficult for us to get the word out without over-saturating
"The national recall system that’s in place now just doesn’t work," Craig
Wilson, assistant vice president for quality assurance and food safety at Costco,
told the Post. "We call it the Chicken Little syndrome. If you
keep shouting at the wind — ‘The sky is falling! The sky is falling!’ — people
literally become immune to the message."
Indeed, the newspaper pointed
to a recent study found that 12 percent of Americans who knew they had recalled
food at home ate it anyway.
Mr. Wilson believes retailers can do the job most
efficiently. Using membership details, they can trace each and every purchaser
of any recalled item. Similarly, nearly 50 percent of Toyota owners, traced
through their registration details, brought their cars in for adjustments.
the message across is made more difficult by a combination of people believing
"it can’t happen to me" and frustration at being
told what to do. Reaching the public, and convincing them to act, is a challenge
being met by government with the website www.recalls.gov,
email alerts and, most recently, a smartphone application so recalls could
be checked while shopping.
Mr. Wilson believes the federal government should
follow Costco’s lead,
requiring all merchants to follow a similar model, "provided customer
data are used only for safety recalls." To an extent, this is being instituted
by a new federal law. Manufacturers of "durable toddler and baby items
— cribs, high chairs and bathtubs, among them" must now include registration
cards with those products. Previously, only manufacturers of child car seats
were required to provide them.
Even with registrations and the ability to track
purchases through credit and loyalty cards, it isn’t always possible
to reach everyone. Insistence on even more product registration could cause
Discussion Questions: What can be done to minimize risks associated with consumers
tuning out recall messages? What private or public entity or entities are in
the best position to manage recall communications and response?
[Author’s commentary] It’s a sad fact that in an imperfect
world dependent on consumers consuming, an infinite number of unknown unknowns
prevents perfect prevention of problems. Product recall, after the event, is