Monday, July 5, 2010

CPSIA - What?! Too Many Recalls - That CAN'T Be!

The Washington Post stated the obvious this week in an article Friday entitled "Officials Worry about Consumers Lost Among the Recalls". Apparently, the surge in recalls has caused consumers to increasingly ignore them. Apparently, many consumers choose to continue to use recalled items or even to eat recalled food. Among the issues, the swelling number of recalls encourages consumers to assume that they are not serious. In addition, the onslaught of recalls is numbing to consumers. Prominent recalls that appear to be based on junk science or Regulatory Multiple Personality Disorder (RMPD), like my personal favorite McDonald's Shrek glasses which were recalled despite the CPSC's admissin that they were perfectly safe, only amplifiwa the sense of a system is out of control.

Among the useless advice offered in the article is the recommendation that all merchants should do as Costco does, which is to call every customer who has ever bought a recalled item in its stores. What Costco does is admirable, but it is entirely dependent on being a multi-billion dollar, high tech mass market retailer. I think it would be great if I could hit my nine iron 205 yards like Tiger Woods, but then again, it ain't happenin'. It's about as realistic to advise (or require) me to match Mr. Woods distance and accuracy with his golf clubs as it is to require all U.S. merchants to match the achievements of ONE of them, namely Costco in this case. Unfortunately, the article's suggestion is utterly out of touch with reality. Bad news - the world's imperfect. . . .

Whatever we do, we certainly shouldn't address the standards for how recalls are determined, staged or publicized. We may disagree about many things, but we all have to acknowledge that our government COULDN'T be at fault. Certainly not, their every choice and execution is perfection by definition. It's obviously the fault of industry.

Editor's Note: In case you were wondering, I was being sarcastic in the paragraph above.

The Post article also clucks about the implementation of registration cards for durable infant products like cribs and bassinets. I have consistently pointed out that durable infant products are in a different category because they are useful for a long time (hence the word "durable") and tend to be handed down from one generation to another, often being used over decades. On this basis, having a way to reach consumers is a good idea. BUT we need to acknowledge an important consequence of this idealistic solution - the new rules tend to make it very difficult or even illegal as a practical matter to START a business catering to these markets. For those companies crazy enough to remain in the durable infant products market, the new rules on registration cards and data retention is a Gift from Above. The infrastructure and overhead burden of this requirement will be unbearable for any except the most well-capitalized companies.

I am glad I don't need a crib now. Considering how many companies have been crushed by recalls, the penal attitude of the agency (with huge penalties possible LONG after recalls are announced), tough new standards and regulations on the product class, and the new registration cards, I cannot imagine many companies remaining in this market for much longer. The ensuing lack of competition will likely mean fewer products, much higher prices, less innovation, fewer available imports. The CPSIA is a protectionist regime for those few companies not already bankrupt at the hands of the government.

I am not in this business and my kids are older - for once, this is someone else's problem. I think the government's approach to fixing this problem is completely wrong. They seem to be taking their instructions from a very small and insular group of consumer advocates whose judgment on these matters is largely unchallenged by industry or an inquisitive media. [Media is only inquisitive these days if they can portray a crisis, it seems to me.] Having bought into these harsh concepts at the hands of consumer groups, the government today is busy patting itself on the back for a job well-done. We'll see . . . .

In the meantime, with the CPSC announcing micro-recalls like Daiso's latest (190 pieces recalled - total, including inventory on the shelf - of five items selling for $1.50 at retail), the consumer is left wondering if anything is safe or everything is safe (and the government has lost its mind). I can't tell you but my guess is closer to the latter. And the Washington Post says you are all checking out. Good job, regulators!


Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that the reason that Costco can notify you of recalls is that nice little membership card that tracks everything you ever buy and keeps that data, well, forever.

So I guess the theory goes that this is not a privacy concern at all and therefore we should want to have each and every thing we buy anywhere marked down on a database.

Just so long as we are "safe."

I personally don't bother reading the recalls anymore. And I never did get around to pulling my son's recalled Thomas out of storage to return them.

Anonymous said...

Unchallenged because no business can afford to risk being seen as a "baby killer".