Ikea can handle 915 million visitors, but its recalled dresser just killed another toddler

Image: Reuters/Neil Hall
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IKEA has a history of successfully engaging with its customers, crafting everything from compelling marketing campaigns that redefine domestic bliss in different cultures to hypnotic advertisements built to sooth customers who watch them. But the parents of 2-year-old Jozef Dudek are suing the company, saying their recall of the MALM dresser was poorly publicized. Their son was the 8th child to die after being crushed by an IKEA dresser.

In the wake of the tragedy, IKEA is now re-upping its June 2016 recall announcement. According to the CEO, Lars Petersson, the company wants to increase awareness of the recall for several types of chest and dressers that can easily tip over if not anchored to a wall. The 2016 recall was for 29 million dressers, including the MALM models.

Trouble began as far back at 2014,  when two-year-old Curren Collas was crushed to death by a dresser toppling over and suffocating him. By 2016, the MALM dresser had been linked to the deaths of two other small children: Theodore McGee and Camden Ellis, and the company issued a formal recall. The company later paid $50 million to settle a lawsuit by the parents.

At the time, the company said it was ‘pleased by the overwhelming response to our recall announcement’ though a side-effect was to set-off extremely high call volume and long wait times to their call centers. Customers who weren’t able to get through were advised to either email the company, visit a store, or contact IKEA for a choice of a free wall-anchoring repair kit or a refund.  They were also warned to move the dressers away from where children could reach them, immediately stop using any recalled chest or dresser that was not properly anchored to the wall.

In the wake of the tragic deaths, the company also began a “Secure It!” campaign to encourage consumers to buy hardware to affix dressers to walls so that they would not tip over. According to news reports, Petersson said Ikea has had an “extensive communication” campaign through its website and via social media and emailed 13 million people about the recall two months ago.

To be sure, IKEA is not the only company whose furniture has been recalled because of tipping hazards. In the US there are more than 43,000 injuries due to tip-over incidents each year, and about 25,000 are children. But it’s surprising that a company whose specialty is furniture engineering hasn’t been able to design a dresser that doesn’t need special hardware to be safe.