Col­lect­ing com­sumer data

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS -

Costco uses the data gath­ered through cards car­ried by its 56 mil­lion whole­sale club mem­bers and calls them within 24 hours if they have pur­chased a re­called item. The com­pany fol­lows up with a let­ter.

“When we get a re­call no­tice, I can tell you ev­ery­body who bought that prod­uct, ex­actly where and when they bought that, and I have their phone and ad­dress,” said Costco’s Wil­son. “I’ll make a phone call the day the re­call is an­nounced, in a hu­man voice, and the mes­sage goes right to them and tells them what’s go­ing on, in clear, easy-to-un­der­stand lan­guage.”

The re­sult is that the vast ma­jor­ity — in some cases 90 per­cent — of Costco cus­tomers re­turn re­called prod­ucts to the store, Wil­son said.

The fed­eral govern­ment ought to re­quire mer­chants to fol­low a sim­i­lar model, pro­vided cus­tomer data are used only for safety re­calls, Wil­son said.

Reach­ing con­sumers di­rectly is the idea be­hind a fed­eral law that took ef­fect this week. It re­quires man­u­fac­tur­ers of durable tod­dler and baby items — cribs, high chairs and bath­tubs, among them — to in­clude reg­is­tra­tion cards with those prod­ucts. Be­fore this week, only man­u­fac­tur­ers of child car seats were re­quired to pro­vide those cards.

The new law was named af­ter 16-month-old Danny Keysar of Chicago, who died in May 1998 at his day-care fa­cil­ity when a Playskool Travel-Lite por­ta­ble crib col­lapsed, trap­ping his neck in its folded rails. Danny’s par­ents’ grief turned to rage when they learned that the crib had been re­called five years ear­lier, said Nancy Cowles, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Kids In Dan­ger, a non­profit founded by the Keysars. The par­ent who do­nated the crib to the child care fa­cil­ity didn’t know it had been re­called.

“Re­calls by them­selves are just not very ef­fec­tive,” Cowles said. “Of course, the most ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion is to have stricter stan­dards and make safer prod­ucts so we don’t need a re­call in the first place.”

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