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Toys R Us' trade-in offer triggered by safety recalls

Executives say the Great Trade-In event is meant to raise awareness about unsafe children's items and to discourage consumers from buying used children's products.

August 26, 2009|Andrea Chang

"Cash for clunkers" is over, but Toys R Us Inc. is offering parents cash for cribs.

After several high-profile recalls of children's products drew low consumer response, executives at the toy giant decided to offer a trade-in program to help rid homes of unsafe items, said Jerry Storch, chairman and chief executive of Toys R Us.

During the Great Trade-In event, which begins Friday, all Babies R Us and Toys R Us stores nationwide will accept returns of used cribs, car seats, bassinets, strollers, travel systems, play yards and high chairs regardless of how old they are or where they were purchased.

In exchange, consumers will receive a 20% discount on any new item in those categories from 16 manufacturers including Cosco, Evenflo, Graco and Safety 1st. There is no limit on how many items customers can trade in.

Storch said the retailer wanted to raise awareness about unsafe children's products and chose high-ticket categories that "were the most suspect."

"There have been significant improvements in consumer product safety and legislation in recent years, but many of the products out there preexist [current] consumer product safety standards," Storch said in an interview Tuesday. "We had to design an incentive for consumers to bring those products back into the stores."

The program -- which ends Sept. 20 and is a first for the Wayne, N.J., retailer -- is also designed to discourage consumers from buying used children's items.

With the financial crisis hampering consumer spending, safety experts are worried that parents could be turning more to garage sales and flea markets to buy secondhand baby products to save money. They warn that many of those items could be dangerous.

"We're all looking for ways to stretch our dollars in this economy, but in doing so, children's safety shouldn't be compromised," Storch said. "Parents might not know the risks in these used products."

Millions of baby cribs, toys and other items have been recalled in the last two years for safety risks including strangulation, suffocation and entrapment.

Despite widespread media attention, companies often get back just a handful of items. According to Kids in Danger, a children's safety advocacy group, consumers generally return less than 30% of affected items when a baby product is recalled.

"People just don't learn about recalls through the messages that we've been using to date," said Nancy Cowles, the group's executive director.

The meager returns have spurred initiatives aimed at getting harmful products out of the public's hands, including a Consumer Product Safety Commission e-mail program that notifies consumers about recalls.

Still, too often consumers never hear about a recall or "put it on their to-do list and never respond," said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the safety commission.

Last week, for instance, the agency reissued an August 2008 recall of about 900,000 Simplicity bassinets because two infants had died after becoming trapped between the product's bars or in a pocket of fabric; the initial recall was prompted by the deaths of two other children.

"We have said for decades at this agency that we do a very good job of getting dangerous and recalled products off of store shelves," Wolfson said. "Our greatest challenge is always getting those products out of people's homes and out of circulation."

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andrea.chang@latimes.com

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