Rapid recall: getting unsafe products off the market quickly

The following blog post is reproduced from Consumers International.

Product recalls are an important way to remove unsafe products from the marketplace and prevent injury and death. This year the OECD and the International Standards Organisation will be looking at how recalls can be delivered more effectively to ensure consumers are better protected.

The right to safety is a key consumer right and for many consumer organisations, product safety was the issue that led to their creation or made them into a well-known household name. However, despite real progress in improving product safety, challenges remain. The issue is rising up the agenda again as a result of unresolved issues and new challenges such as globalised supply chains and markets and new technology.

The primary aim of product safety is to ensure that all products that come to the market are safe, however even with the best will this is unlikely to be possible. This is why product recalls will always have a vital role to play in keeping consumers safe.

Yet, when we asked our international membership about this, a clear majority felt that product recalls were infrequent compared to the number of product safety issues and, when they do take place they are often poorly promoted. Where responses have been measured there is also evidence that recalls only result in a relatively small number of products being returned.

Behavioural insights

The low response rate to some recalls can lead to debates about behavioural insights and ‘rational’ behaviour. The positive aspect of this discussion is that it focuses on consumers as active participants in a recall – not just passive recipients of information, but the descriptions of ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ behaviour that are sometimes part of this debate can be unhelpful and suggest that it is the consumers fault for not responding.

The fact is that many consumers lead busy lives and are bombarded with hundreds of messages every day including news, advice and marketing. In this context it is understandable if consumers miss important information or struggle to respond to information. This is particularly true if the information is not communicated clearly and if participating in the recall is time consuming and difficult.

So what can be done to make product recalls more effective?