In response to the global pandemic and disruptions to supply chains, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has alerted consumers for the past few weeks that recall remedies might be unavailable or otherwise delayed. Indeed, the CPSC posted the following notice on its homepage and webpages:
The CPSC has also made it clear that if manufacturers are struggling to make recall remedies available (whether due to a supply chain disruption or other issue), they need to notify consumers. In addition, shutdowns of non-essential businesses (such as dealerships) may make it impossible for customers to bring recalled products into a store to be fixed or for in-home repairs to be completed.
As a result, manufacturers will need to give extra consideration to their communications with consumers in regard to both upcoming recalls and those already in progress. While the CPSC has long suggested to consumer product manufacturers that they use websites, customer service phone numbers, and social media to relay recall information to consumers, the latter will most certainly be an important consideration in the weeks and months ahead.
In recent years, CPSC members have highlighted the importance of utilizing social media platforms to announce product recalls and other product safety information, advising that it is no longer acceptable for companies to solely rely on direct letters to consumers to convey recall information when social media is now the largest news source for the Millennial generation. As consumers self-quarantine and face stay-at-home orders over the coming weeks and months, social media use may serve as the most essential form of communication for many consumers. Accordingly, it will be important for companies to post recall information—including updates on the availability of remedies – to their social media accounts.
As a reminder, the CPSC’s guide on social media use for conveying recall information is available here. Now is a great time to reconsider best practices for when, and how often, to communicate recall information to consumers online. For example, if a recall remedy is delayed by three months, it may not be appropriate to post a single notice announcing the recall. Instead, manufacturers facing delays to recall remedies as a result of COVID-19 may want to post more regular updates, including a notice to consumers when the remedy finally becomes available.
If a recall could be delayed several months, manufacturers should provide status updates every two to three weeks to prevent communications from appearing to be stale. In addition, companies should consider explaining the reason for the delay. For example, if the parts needed to complete the recall are not available because the supplier’s business is currently shut down due to COVID-19, a clear message to that effect along with any efforts the company is making to secure the parts elsewhere will make the delay more understandable, and likely acceptable to consumers. In addition, such communications will help to reduce the chances that a consumer will pursue a lawsuit related to the delayed recall, including for diminution of the value of the product. Such communications would also be valuable evidence if a lawsuit is started as courts are likely to be disinclined to find fault in COVID-19 related recall delays.
It will also be important for companies, consistent with the CPSC guide, to post recall information and updates on all of their social media platforms taking extra caution to post on their most active accounts (those with the most likes/followers). For example, if a company has a specific product line-focused Facebook page, as well as a general company Facebook page, the recall should be listed on both pages so that the content may reach the broadest possible audience. Content should also be posted consistently across all social media platforms. Such best practices for social media recall notifications should be addressed in companies’ Safety Compliance Plans.
Lastly, as manufacturers face new challenges during this global health pandemic, companies should remember to stick to their Safety Compliance Plans and also consider the need to update their current plans to address pandemic-specific situations such as recall remedy changes and/or delays.