ConsumerBell Aims to Make Product Recalls Less Painful for Manufacturers and Consumers
After Ellie Chachette’s father was infected with HIV from a product that he was taking in the 1980s to treat his hemophilia, he joined a class-action lawsuit that took 10 years for his lawyers to fight. They ultimately won, but “the lawyers got most of the money,” Cachette recalls. “That always bothered me.”
So in May of last year, Cachette, who has a background in IT and marketing, started up ConsumerBell, a website that’s designed to be a central clearinghouse for information related to product recalls. Today the site, which has been in beta for the last several months, is rolling out a host of new features that consumer-products companies can use to better manage recalls and communicate with customers who may be affected. The idea is for consumers to get the news about recalls quicker, so fewer people will be hurt and ultimately fewer class-action lawsuits will be filed, Cachette says.
ConsumerBell offers different services for retailers, manufacturers, and consumers. With the site’s new “corporate login” feature, store owners and product makers can post information about recalls, as well as forms for customers to fill out when they need to return a product or request a refund. The companies can then track the recall process in real time, amassing data on where refund requests are coming from, for example, and the time of day that most consumers are responding to recall news. ConsumerBell owns more than 50 Twitter handles and domain names, including Childrensrecalls.com, Kidrecalls.com, and Recallmarket.com—which it can use to widely disseminate product news, Cachette says.
The site already lists 60 recalled products. There are Kashi frozen Mediterranean pizzas, for example, and American Girl bracelets. Pet owners browsing ConsumerBell will learn that Bravo roasted pig ears have been recalled because of a Salmonella scare. Cachette and her staff of four have been proactively combing the Web for recall notices and adding them to the site’s “marketplace,” which now includes everything from sewing machines to strollers to toy helicopters. Cachette anticipates there will be 200 products listed on the site by next month.
But what’s particularly surprising to Cachette is that more than a dozen companies have already signed up to use ConsumerBell’s corporate services—even though some of them aren’t going through a recall at the moment. “They’re getting to know the system so they don’t have to learn it from scratch in a crisis,” Cachette says. The site is also catching on with public relations agencies that may be working with companies on recalls, including early adopter Barkley PR, based in Kansas City.
ConsumerBell’s revenues come from its corporate customers, who pay $1 to $3 per completed “transaction,” such as a consumer filling out a refund request on the site.
For buyers of faulty products, ConsumerBell is designed to offer more control, comfort, and interaction that one would normally get, say, by calling an 800 number. “People can go online and provide the company with all the information that’s needed” about a recalled product they own, Cachette says. “They can sign up to get updates from the company. They can get e-mails saying ‘Your repair will be ready in a week.’ So there’s a level of engagement you don’t get with an 800 number.”
Cachette, who was previously a technical product manager for Macys, launched ConsumerBell with $80,000 in angel funding. The startup was plagued with challenges—it was turned down by the TechStars Boston incubator and some prominent angel groups—prompting Cachette to document her travails on Women 2.0. Cachette had been living in San Francisco, but she moved the company to New York in February “to be close to large manufacturers and marketing agencies,” she says.
The ConsumerBell startup team is now raising a seed round and gearing up for several site improvements they plan to launch this year. ConsumerBell will expand to Canada, and Cachette also hopes to start listing recalls of “digital goods”—online credits and downloads gone bad. She says ConsumerBell will expand into pharmaceutical recalls by the end of the year.
Most of Cachette’s competition is coming from large companies that are trying to manage their own recall processes online. But those companies haven’t mastered search-engine optimization and other basics of online communication—and that ultimately hurts the end customer, she contends. “The odds of a consumer finding [recall notices] are small,” she says. “There’s more value in having them in a central place. We’re like the Amazon for broken things.”