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How Consumer Insights Can Prevent Brand Disasters

Product recalls can have a tangible impact on how a brand is viewed. Claire Bruce Benes discusses the effects of a product recall on consumer attitudes.

Editor’s Note: Few things make my stomach sink like reading about a favorite product I use being recalled for health or safety reasons. Claire Bruce Benes discusses a study she did on attitudes towards recalls. She was able to go from programming to results with a good size sample in mere hours, demonstrating the capabilities modern research technology has to do important research in a timely manner.


According to the Food and Drug Administration, there were 1,928 food and cosmetic recalls in 2018.  While this is an improvement over 2017 when 3,609 products were recalled, the numbers still indicate that, even with the best preventative measures, a recall event or other devastating brand-impacting event can befall even the best brands.

After Starbucks announced that it would recall 263,200 Bodum coffee presses, with an estimated cost of $5.3Million, we wanted to learn from consumers how brands should approach a looming recall or other potential adverse events that could tarnish their brand halos.

On Friday, we asked 500 primary shoppers in the U.S. their views of recalls and other events via the Toluna QuickSurveys platform. From script to results it only took four hours. Here is what we learned…

How do Recalls Rank?

We were a little surprised by the answer to this question. In the eyes of the shopper, raising prices actually had a more significant negative impact than recalls on how shoppers viewed a brand. Recall due to illness or contamination came in at #2 (rated 64 percent having a negative effect) — slightly lower than the #1 negative brand-perception impacting event, which was raising prices (67 percent). Recall due to defect was in the #4 spot at 54 percent, with a similar impact to brand perception as out of stocks (53 percent).

Thus recalls can have a tangible impact on how a brand is viewed.

How do Recalls Effect the Bottom line?

Brand perception is one thing, but how does it impact the potential for buyers to return to the brand. In the event of a product defect, 47 percent of shoppers would likely not buy the brand in the future. If the recall is related to contamination or illness, 62 percent of shoppers would likely not repurchase the brand. Thus, recalls could harm brand sales for months or years to come.

How Do Shoppers Advise Handling Recalls?

Shoppers advise keeping it simple and clear for improving the perception of a pending recall:

  1. Offer a Refund or Replacement on my purchase
  2. Communicate what I need to know early
  3. Commit to changing business practices

Shoppers say an apology from a company’s CEO is less important than taking action to make shoppers whole again and prevent future errors from happening.

In the end, having a quick and consumer-validated response to recall or other challenging situations is critical.  Consumer insights solutions can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your target market, from agile surveys with results in hours to communities allowing on-demand access to your best consumers.  These tools will give you the power you need to stay one step ahead of possible recalls or other negative events, ensuring that your most important customers remain loyal to your brand.

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Claire Bruce Benes

Claire Bruce Benes

Client Director , Toluna