Millennials are getting the blame once again — this time, for not responding to recall notices.
People ages 18-34 are the least compliant consumer age group when it comes to responding to recalls, according to a recent survey by recall consultancy Stericycle Expert Solutions. Based on a consumer survey of over 1,000 Americans, the company found that millennials are most likely to ignore recall notices and throw them in the trash compared to other consumer age groups, especially baby boomers (ages 51 - 69).
“It’s a trend that needs to be reversed, because millennials are now the largest living American generation and will drive the greatest percentage of product purchases in the near future,” said Michael Good, vice president of marketing and sales operations at Stericycle Expert Solutions.
Some attribute this trend of ignoring recalls to a growing phenomenon known as “recall fatigue” — when people ignore product recalls because they are so overwhelmed by the frequent number of recall notices every day, according to The Washington Post.
"The national recall system that's in place now just doesn't work," Craig Wilson, vice president for quality assurance and food safety at Costco, said to The Washington Post. "We call it the Chicken Little syndrome. If you keep shouting at the wind -- 'The sky is falling! The sky is falling!' -- people literally become immune to the message."
"We call it the Chicken Little syndrome. If you keep shouting at the wind -- 'The sky is falling! The sky is falling!' -- people literally become immune to the message."
It’s become so serious that many companies are looking for new ways to cut through the “white noise” in order to get consumers to heed their recalls, especially if the recall is for a product that was discovered to be seriously dangerous or defective.
But is recall noncompliance really a millennial problem? Or is “recall fatigue” a problem that affects every consumer age group?
Many Baby Boomers Consider Recall Notices “Not Serious,” Too
It’s true that 33 percent of millennials surveyed consider recall notices “not serious,” according to the Stericycle survey. But it is important to note that 21 percent of baby boomers surveyed consider recall notices “not serious” as well.
While a lower percentage than millennials, that’s still a considerable number of boomers surveyed who potentially ignore recalls due to recall fatigue.
Clearly, recall fatigue is an issue that impacts each consumer age group.
The survey goes further to reveal that 26 percent of all consumers surveyed believe that recall notices aren’t “serious” and are sent mainly as a “technicality” of legal obligation. Additionally, of those surveyed who have received a recall notice in the past for a consumer electronics item, 27 percent of respondents said they only comply “some of the time” or not at all.
Clearly, recall fatigue is an issue that impacts each consumer age group.
However, recall fatigue does seem to have a varying influence on recall compliance depending on the industry. Simply put: consumers respond differently depending on if the recall is for a motor vehicle, electronic device, or a food product.
Recall Fatigue in the Auto Industry: A Major Problem
The auto industry is among those most hard-hit by the phenomenon of “recall fatigue.”
At least 45 million vehicles — or approximately one in six — licensed to operate on U.S. roadways has an outstanding recall issue that has not been fixed, according to a 2016 study by J.D. Power and Associates. And that figure could be much higher, says the study, if you take into account difficult-to-track older recalls.
Part of the problem is the sheer volume of recalls: 53.2 million vehicles were recalled in 2016 alone. But not all of these recalls are for dire issues. In fact, most recalls are for more minor issues, such as a mislabeled sticker or a suspension spring that could prematurely wear out, according to Consumer Reports.
While all recall notices should be heeded, these recalls are not as life-or-death as some more extreme examples, such as the General Motors ignition switch defect, which led to some of the automaker’s vehicles shutting off unexpectedly on the road. But in the slew of all of the recall notices, consumers may overlook these far more important recalls for deadly defects.
At least 45 million vehicles — or approximately one in six — licensed to operate on U.S. roadways has an outstanding recall issue that has not been fixed...
Add to this issue the fact that — unlike any other consumer product — used cars with outstanding recalls can be sold by dealerships. Millions of used cars with unresolved defects are sold each year under a “used-car loophole,” according to Forbes. These unresolved issues can range from the minor to the deadly, like Takata’s airbag defect that causes the airbag inflator to explode while inflating and spray metal shrapnel within the car.
This isn’t an issue of just a few “bad apple” dealerships. It’s a widespread problem.
Just last month, safety advocates reviewed eight locations owned by CarMax Inc., the largest used car retailer in the country. In these locations, a quarter of vehicles for sale had unresolved safety issues linked to outstanding recalls, according to Bloomberg. Some even contained deadly Takata airbags.
Aside from the ethical quandaries of selling a potential dangerous used vehicle as “safe,” it can be hard for automakers to reach current owners of used vehicles with outstanding recalls, due to vehicle ownership potentially switching hands multiple times, according to Consumer Reports. The automaker simply loses track of the owner. So those who own a used vehicle and are generally compliant with recalls may not even be receiving notices.
All of this contributes to a major problem of fatigue recall in the auto industry that shows no sign of improving any time soon.
Food and Drug Recall Fatigue: Not So Much
There was one positive sign of recall compliance in this survey: 70 percent of all respondents ranked food and pharmaceutical recalls as one of the important kinds of recalls; 85 percent of those surveys across all age groups said they check their refrigerators or cupboards after hearing about a food recall on the news or via social media; and 82 percent said they check their medicine cabinet for a recalled drug.
This is encouraging, especially considering food recalls are generally on the rise. There were 764 food recalls issued in 2016, a 22 percent increase compared to 2015, according to Food Safety Magazine.
70 percent of all respondents ranked food and pharmaceutical recalls as one of the important kinds of recalls...
Another study corroborates the survey’s findings that most consumers take food and drug recalls seriously. A study by Dr. William Hallman, professor and chair of Rutgers Department of Human Ecology, found that 84 percent of Americans say they pay close attention to food recalls when lives are lost or there are a high number of hospitalizations. In addition, 81 percent of Americans also say they will tell others about a food recall if they hear about one, according to the same study.
Basically, if the story is serious enough to cut through the noise and make headlines, people will usually take heed of the warning, throw out or return the tainted food, and tell their friends and family to do the same.
Still, millions of Americans contract serious food-borne illnesses from eating contaminated food each year, resulting in approximately 3,000 deaths annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is still a lot of work to be done in quickly identifying and informing consumers about potentially tainted products on the market — and in their homes.
How to Cut Through the White Noise of Product Recalls
It’s clear that the volume of recalls announced on a weekly and even daily basis makes it difficult for consumers to respond to the recalls that actually impact them and the products they own. After all, 70 percent of consumers surveyed in the Stericycle Expert Solution study said that they judge recall notices based on whether they think they are personally at risk.
So how can consumers keep up with relevant product recalls?
70 percent of consumers surveyed in the Stericycle Expert Solution study said that they judge recall notices based on whether they think they are personally at risk.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission provides consumers recall alerts by email based on specific types of products. Consumers can opt for alerts involving recalls on just child products, sports and recreation products, household products, or outdoor products, or they can receive alerts for all consumer recalls.
SaferCar.gov, operated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, allows consumers to receive recall notifications for motor vehicles by email. Vehicle owners can also check their car for outstanding recalls by using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) search tool. This will show consumers vehicle safety recalls that are incomplete and all vehicle safety recalls conducted in the past 15 years.
For people with food allergies, or the parents of children with food allergies, The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America offers email alerts to help keep you in the loop about allergen-specific food recalls, such as mislabeled products that contain one of the big six allergens: peanuts, tree nuts, milk, egg, wheat, and soy.
Some websites go a step further to offer services that allow consumers to only get recall alerts for the items they actually own. Bonnie is a new startup that searches through a consumer’s emails with their permission to see what products they have bought online in the past, according to Forbes.
Based on this data, it will inform the consumer if any of those items has an outstanding recall or safety issue. Bonnie can then continue to monitor future purchases for any recalls or outstanding safety issues. Alternatively, users can scan their in-store purchase receipts to see if those items have recalls.
As recall notices grow in frequency and the issue of recall fatigue becomes more severe, expect more businesses and agencies to try to create innovative ways to reach out to consumers about potentially dangerous products in relevant ways and cut through the recall “white noise.”
Hurt by a Product?
It’s important to keep up with product recalls, but at the end of the day, even the most attentive consumers can still end up hurt by defective, faulty, or tainted products in their home out of no fault of their own.
If you’re hurt in any degree by a product and believe it was due to manufacturer negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Fill out our free, no-risk case evaluation form to speak with a product liability attorney to learn more today.