Product Recalls Online as the New Consumer Engagement



Over 60 million products were recalled last year by the CPSC and they are only one of several regulators initiating product recalls. Often thought of as a rare consumer experience, recalls are in fact an opportunity to connect with consumers and much more common than ever before.

As manufacturing capacities increase as well as consumer demand more products are making it out the factory doors and in use before a recall is initiated. As discussed by social media strategist Matthew Monahan, branding and social media usage are also on a path of extreme growth which means more accountability and freshness will be needed for the next chapter of commerce. (See also, How Social Media Could Change Product Recalls)

Until recently the product recall process hasn’t accounted for social media only internet. It used to be ConsumerReports would review or highlight a product’s quality or ConsumerWatch, an uninteractive database for looking up existing recalls would publish a blog post, but what about future recalls and notifications? Once the consumer gets the message (if at all) what do they do? Have we actually innovated the product recall experience online?

While in charge of an area that has one of the highest percentage of recalls, the CPSC is limited in its scope outside of initiation. There was the launch of a government wide database for complaints to help initiate recalls faster yet its usage has been borderline and the future of such database unknown – then of course a backlash to eliminate the CPSC by consumer watchdogs.

So why hasn’t anyone tackled the hundred billion dollar problem of managing product recalls online?

Part of the issue is for companies themselves, if they are successful in building a separate portal for their recall they will experience SEO cannibalization, which is when SEO related to their company or product will be filled with links related to the recalls offsetting huge budgets set aside to controlling online image. So how do companies that want to do the right thing and get in touch with as many affected consumers as possible, in fact reach consumers without tainting a whole brand? The most simple answer: third party vendors. (see also, 5 Tips for Brands to Handle Recalls Online)


Some players in the space have found different ways to tackle this problem, has created a marketplace for online items that are “safe.” SafetyBook created a product for consumers to manually upload their household items to receive notifications in the future but doesn’t go back to past recalls and already charges fees to keep consumers information secure. WeMakeItSafer offers several online products for recall tracking for both consumers and retailers. Their consumer tool, called Items I Own, checks consumers’ belongings for past recalls in addition to sending notification in the event of future recalls. It is a free, easy to use service that keeps consumers’ information private. “It was important to us from the very beginning to offer a free service that maintains consumers’ privacy.” Jennifer Toney, Founder and CEO of WeMakeItSafer explained in a phone interview with SocialTimes, “Consumers should not have to pay for safety, nor should they fear that their information will be shared.” In addition to Items I Own, WeMakeItSafer will be rolling out more tools for retailers, enabling them to keep their customers safe from recalled products, in the near future.


Some manufacturers have taken ambitious initiatives and budgets to have proactive social media teams like PepsiCo and Nike, however, most companies find themselves in a flurry when a recall occurs having to either deplete the social media teams annual budget or allocate new resources internally to addressing the recall.While still an emerging space, corporations are learning as well that vendors can offer huge advantages and partnerships. ExpertRecall, a Stericycle owned company helps large manufacturers with their recall needs from logistics to material retrieval. ConsumerBell, a social media focused web application, helps companies quickly setup subdomains and unique pages for products that are recalled in a way that doesn’t harm existing social media strategies (Disclaimer: I am a lead investor and CEO of ConsumerBell).