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Product Recall Plans Must Include Refunds

Offering consumers an anchoring kit as the only remedy in a furniture stability-related product recall “simply does not suffice for protecting children,” two Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) officials said last week.

In a September 24 joint statement, acting CPSC Chair Robert Adler and Commissioner Elliot Kaye said that, in many cases, “customers will never install the kits either because they lack the skill or because they live in rental units that don’t permit putting holes in the wall.”

The statement doesn’t address two additional reasons customers might choose not to request or install an anchoring kit for a recalled product, the American Home Furnishings Alliance noted. First, many recalled units are sold to households that have no children. Second, when recalls cover products sold over many years, the customer may have sold, given away or discarded the recalled unit.

The commissioners said the agency has spent “countless hours … trying to convince industry of the necessity to address those clothing storage units that pose a tip-over hazard.” AHFA, however, has for years urged CPSC to engage in stiffer enforcement of the ASTM International F2057 stability standard for clothing storage furniture. Further, AHFA has submitted official comments in support of CPSC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for a mandatory stability standard, which the agency initiated in November 2017. 

Adler and Kaye cite “a number of less-than-adequate” recall corrective action plans in which companies offered customers an anchoring kit for their recalled product but did not offer a full refund. “Companies should, at a minimum, offer full and fast refunds to consumers who do not want to live with furniture that could tip over and harm children,” the commissioners wrote. “Anything less is truly inadequate relief.”  The commissioners said they would no longer support any proposed corrective action plans that lack a “full and fast” refund option.

There have been 10 furniture recalls in 2020 citing product instability. Six of the 10 companies involved did offer customers a refund for the recalled product.

Two of the four companies that did not offer a refund were recalling products under 30 inches in height that were not covered by the voluntary stability standard during the time period they were sold. These included a 28-inch high chest from Homestar sold between January 2016 and May 2019, and a 29 3/4-inch chest from Prepac sold from April 2005 through September 2018. There were zero reported incidents with these two units.

Modus Furniture recalled 1,300 dressers in June that were unstable if the mirror was not installed properly. These were sold between November 2017 and December 2019 with no reported incidents. Modus contacted all known purchasers directly and offered a free replacement tip-over restraint kit and free in-home installation, if requested, but did not offer a refund.

The only 2020 recall of a non-compliant product that failed to offer a refund was the August recall of nearly 20,000 chests produced by Transform and sold at Kmart stores and on between March 2018 and April 2020. No tip-over incidents have been associated with the product. The unit is slightly under 30-inches and was not subject to the stability standard prior to August 2019 when the minimum height of covered units was lowered to 27 inches. All units sold from August 2019 to April 2020 were non-compliant. Nevertheless, Transform offered only a free anchoring kit to customers upon request.

To help rid the marketplace of non-compliant bedroom storage furniture, AHFA launched a “WE COMPLY” campaign in April 2016 to help retailers identify compliant furniture at the High Point and Las Vegas furniture markets. AHFA also communicates proposed changes to the voluntary stability standard to member companies well in advance of any updates, so they can plan ahead to revise potentially non-compliant units. 

This year, the alliance is encouraging its member companies, along with all of their leading retail dealers, to add product compliance information to online product descriptions to make it easier for consumers to find.

In addition, AHFA recently hosted two webinars designed to help companies avoid product recalls and to manage them effectively in the unlikely event they discover a non-compliant product.