Did Ikea wait too long with furniture recall?

Since 1989, at least 41 tip-over incidents involving the recalled furniture have occurred, leading to at least six fatalities and 17 injuries.

CONSHOHOCKEN, PA: Ikea is finally recalling chests and dressers that have injured and killed a number of children due to a tipping hazard, after an education campaign the retailer initiated in recent years failed to keep consumers safe.

As part of the recall, 29 million chests and dressers, including certain Malm products, will no longer be sold at the retailer’s U.S. locations. Last year, Ikea doled out free furniture repair kits to consumers after two children died, but since then another child – a 22-month-old boy – was also killed after a Malm chest fell on top of him. Since 1989, at least 41 tip-over incidents with the furniture have occurred, leading to at least six fatalities and 17 injuries.  

"Ikea did the right thing by recalling [this furniture]," Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesperson Patty Davis told PRWeek. "The previous announcement didn’t go far enough. We negotiate recalls with companies and we were able to negotiate going beyond just a repair kit."

Now, Ikea will go to consumers’ homes to pick up the affected furniture and give them a complete refund or store credit. Consumers also have the option of returning the merchandise to stores or requesting a repair kit from the retailer.

Ikea’s delay to pull the models from shelves until now was an "unusual and risky" move, noted Gene Grabowski, a partner at Washington, DC-based kglobal. He explained that a delay to recall today is rarer than it was a decade ago.

"Companies have been much more likely to do a recall quickly and not try to put it off with a repair kit or in the case of a food recall, a partial recall," he said. "It is because sanctions from the CPSC are a lot harsher and larger than they used to be and litigation as a result has been very aggressive."

Grabowski added that Ikea’s repair program was a "calculated risk."

"Giving people these kits to anchor the furniture, there is a school of thought that says that is good because consumers then have that option and if they don’t take it they will accept responsibility," he said. "I am not so sure that will hold up this time."

Fineman PR president Michael Fineman said that there are a number of reasons for delaying or even forgoing a formal recall, particularly when there is no "smoking gun" or hard evidence for inherent malfunction, and when safety assurance is partially the responsibility of consumer action or inaction.

"Often times, though pundits may write otherwise, a recall will not solve the problem," he said. "Ikea’s anchor kit was a public awareness campaign aimed to reduce consumer error, but when incidents continue to arise in correlation with a certain product, the onus on consumers to take that extra step ultimately falls on the manufacturer."

Recalls can be costly and damaging, and many gray areas can exist with regard to whether or not a situation demands one at all. It is down to the manufacturer and the regulating agency to set a standard and protect consumer interests, Fineman explained.

"The goal is to be a brand that is collaborative, not combative in the process, but sometimes the approach is not readily apparent," he said. "Integrity of response is important, because a quick fix is not necessarily the best course of action, even if it seems to be in the public interest for safety."

 Unfortunately, a rush to judgment is inevitable and not in the manufacturer’s favor, Fineman added.

In a situation like this, Ikea must communicate care and concern, with sensitivity for consumers, as well as ongoing involvement while behind-the-scenes factors are being measured, he said.

"I noticed Ikea didn’t return a call to The Wall Street Journal in today’s story; in today’s world, it is not an acceptable mode of behavior or response to not have a comment at the outset of a story like this," said Grabowski. "Ikea needs to be talking about the actions it has taken and its concern for consumers."

He added that Ikea does not seem to be controlling the images outlets are publishing with stories about the recall, referring to a photo many are using of a chest of drawers falling on a dummy.

"That is not a favorable visual," said Grabowski. "Ikea needs to get out in front of that and show visuals of someone installing the wall anchoring kit. We need to see more images of how you can fix this or take action to protect your family."

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