Just how easy is it to return a dangerous, recalled product?


Some retailers make it harder than others for consumers to get their money back

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund completed a new consumer report that evaluated the process of consumers getting their money back when items are recalled. 

The overall theme: this process is often lengthy, complicated, difficult, and many consumers give up before getting their refunds

“Nothing is being done right now to make this process easier for consumers,” Teresa Murray, Consumer Watchdog director, and author of the report, told ConsumerAffairs. “That’s why we’re launching an effort to put pressure on companies, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), and Congress. 

“At minimum, companies should offer online forms that work, one-stop submissions, a photo of the product, and a cash refund – not a voucher,” Murray continued. “It’s that easy.” 

What are the biggest hurdles for consumers?

The report found that in 2023, there were 323 recalls. Of those, only 141 companies offered a refund to customers who had purchased the recalled items. 

Ultimately, around half of the companies involved in the report made it difficult or impossible to submit a request for a refund. According to Murray, there are six primary hurdles that consumers face when getting a refund for recalled items: 

  • Being required to return the product, either by taking it back to the store in person or waiting for a prepaid shipping label by email or USPS so it can be returned. We found this was often required with products that cost as little as $2 to $8. 

  • Being required to call a customer service phone line during specific business hours OR fill out a form to request information on how to get a refund, and then wait for further instructions on what to do next. The customer-friendly companies offer an online form or instructions in the original announcement about exactly what to send via email.

  • Not being able to complete the request in one sitting. Some companies will require you to call customer service, then get an email hours or days or weeks later, then follow those email instructions to submit a request, then when your request is processed, maybe get a refund or further instructions on how to return the product. In contrast, customer-friendly companies put a link to an online form in their public announcement, and that online form allows customers to submit EVERYTHING in one sitting, including a photo of the product or other documentation of ownership, and then just wait for the refund.

  • Not offering details in the public announcement of exactly what someone will need to do or what information they'll need to have. The customer-friendly companies say up front what's needed.

  • Providing web links that are inoperative/dead. 

  • Saying they're offering a refund, but it's actually just a voucher toward a future purchase. 

Some retailers are more difficult than others

The report also showed that some retailers make the refund process more difficult than others. According to Murray, greed is likely the root cause of this. 

“The fewer customers who request and complete the steps to get a refund, the more money that stays in that retailer's pocket,” Murray said. “Some companies may say they require returns or other actions to reduce the chance of fraudulent requests. Even the easiest recall refund process takes time. It's just not the kind of fraud that most con artists are going to take the time to commit.”

What should consumers do? 

What is Murray’s best advice for consumers trying to get their money back from recalls? She offered three tips: 

  • Fill out warranty cards/online submissions for larger purchases, especially electronics and children's items. This way the company has your contact information and has documentation of ownership if there's a recall.

  • Once a month, go to cpsc.gov/recalls and check whether you own anything on the list. Recalls are generally announced every Thursday morning on that page. 

  • Notify the CPSC if you’re having difficulty submitting or receiving a refund. The CPSC just last year created an online form for consumers to file a complaint if a company is being non-responsive or there are other issues. The form requires only your name, email address or phone number, the name of the product, and a short explanation of what the problem is. 

“Consumers deserve to get what they're entitled to,” Murray said. “If a company is ripping you off, you shouldn't just let that go. Change happens when people speak up.”

Take a Home Warranty Quiz. Get matched with an Authorized Partner.