In this product safety podcast Gail Greatorex talks with Tim Wain, who’s had a long association with product safety in the infant and children’s product field. Tim now runs Australia’s Pregnancy Babies and Children’s Expo.
In the first part, Tim talks about how the Expo provides both an avenue to educate parents on product safety, and a means to learn about consumer behaviour patterns at a pivotal time in their lives.
In the latter part, Tim and Gail talk about suppliers’ attitude to product safety and whether their first response is still to blame users when injuries happen.
Product safety information for new parents
Gail: Tim, for many years you led the Infant and Nursery Product Association, and now you’re currently working mainly on staging the Pregnancy, Babies and Children’s’ Expo. What insights into product safety do you gain from running expos around Australia like that?
Tim: The Pregnancy, Babies and Children’s Expo is the world’s longest running baby expo. It’s been going for 25 years now, and I think we’ve managed to achieve a one-stop shop, or an ecosystem in nursery products that is second to none anywhere in the world.
The insights you get about product safety are driven by the fact that you see the full supply chain from when products are developed by innovative new suppliers, all the way through to consumers buying the product: how do they buy the product, how do they buy it as a safe product in the first place, and then secondly how do they then use it.
The insights we get from that gives us a better understanding of how we can communicate changes in product safety, and also changes in the way people are buying products.
Gail: So how many people do you have coming through your expos?
Tim: We have seven expos that we run through the year, and they range from being a small two-day event where we’ll have approximately ten thousand people come through, right through to our major events we run in the capital cities on the east coast which have about twenty thousand people that come through the door.
These are people that are in pre-conception, they’re pregnant, or they’ve just had a baby in recent times – that’s our target audience, and that’s the audience that’s most hungry for information about what they need to know in the nursery industry.
Most people don’t know what they need to know because there’s nowhere you can find out. Coming to an expo they can find out a whole lot of information – from suppliers of product, to information service providers, to people who demonstrate how to use the product effectively.
Gail: So it’s like an in-person experience, where people can get access to a whole range of different information in the one place?
Tim: The expo itself is very much experiential, however our business has generated a whole ecosystem now. We have the experience where people get the opportunity to look and touch and feel the products and access information, but also we have a traditional print medium where we put information about product safety.
We also have a medium where we have nearly 300,000 people on our database that we regularly communicate to, so we can send alerts to them if there’s a need to be alerted, or we can just help them become better parents in their stages of parenting, at whatever stage that may be.
Gail: So these consumers are at that certain stage of becoming new parents – they’re potentially bombarded with information from all sources. What’s your experience with how people are receiving information these days?
Recent research that we’ve undertaken indicates the Millennial Mum is accessing information very differently than previous generations.
This information is being provided to them in absolute overload moments, but the Millennial Mum has been able to navigate through digital disruption. They’ve been able to find out what’s important information to them, and how that improves their various stages of parenting.
Gail: There’s so many different internet forums; how do you feel people are able to navigate?
Tim: People navigate because they learn what’s a trusted resource, and coming to an expo allows them to be provided with a whole lot of information in a non-threatening way.
They want to be able to find as much information – they’re very open to finding information – but they just want to be able to do it in a time that suits them, and in a way that allows them to take control of their parenting stages.
They want to be looking to see what adds value to their life, and how that value equation can improve their parenting.
It’s also founded on the basis that most parents want to be the best parents they possibly can and product safety is important to them.
At the same time, getting advice from parents who have been through parenting in recent times is an overwhelming way people will be influenced as well.
Gail: So once people have got information, have you been able to pick up on behavioural trends . . . how people respond to receiving that information and taking action on it once they have it?
Tim: People in our marketplace will often get information in a stage of their life where they may not act upon that information straight away. People who are thinking of becoming parents will do a lot of research, they’ll come along to expos to find out about what’s involved in parenting, what’s involved in terms of the changes that are going to impact on their life, and they will go away and consider all that.
Parents in their second trimester seem to be able to identify that that’s the time that’s most heightened in terms of their learning.
They’ll often make decisions about what they’ll purchase in their pregnancy, but they won’t necessarily buy that product in the second stage of their trimester because they’ll look to a whole other range of decisions that impact on that.
But the thing that we most know about pregnancy and what this is all about is that this is a stage in life that’s probably the biggest watershed moment of people’s entire life.
They make decisions for the first time about ‘us’ as a family. It’s not just about an individual making decisions, it’s about ‘us’ as a family.
Where considerations are made as an individual growing up – where you might go out and do what your mates want to do – it’s now all about what’s good for baby: What do I need to do to make sure I’m providing the best possible environment for my baby?
As a result of that, it dramatically changes buying habits of a lifetime, and they are so conditioned now to seeing so much information that coming along to an expo or being able to absorb information in areas they simply have no understanding of – or very limited understanding – they need to be able to feel empowered to make the right decision; and accessing information through the expo enables that process to occur.
Gail: I think that’s an interesting way of looking at it in terms of decision making.
In terms of social media impacting consumer’s choices and behaviour, how have you seen the impact of that?
Tim: I think social media raises awareness a lot of the time about what issues are. It is very good to be able to share information about what’s going on. Usually when a tragedy occurs that information will be shared through social media very well; but fundamentally it all boils down to: parents want to be able to share a lot of their experiences as a parent.
They want to feel as though they can make the parenting journey so much better for someone else. Social media is such a powerful tool – in being able to share those experiences.
But in terms of blogs, I don’t think we’re seeing that being as major an impact on buying choices as people may have been led to believe. I think we’re seeing a trend where people are making their own choice and coming to their own conclusions. Being able to look and feel and assess information is probably more of a behavioural change that’s occurred in recent times.
Suppliers’ view of product safety
Gail: Let’s change subjects a little and look at the way suppliers view product safety. Over the years there has been a tendency for suppliers to blame the consumer when things go wrong; the first assumption is that the consumer has used the product incorrectly. What’s your experience of that?
Tim: From a historical point of view I regularly heard stories of suppliers always blaming the consumer, saying it was the consumers fault, that they didn’t use the product correctly, and it was never understood that the supplier had some responsibility in making this change.
With the review of the product safety environment several years ago, and the change to the Consumer Law in Australia, I think we’ve seen a shift from people trying to blame consumers to now saying ‘well, we have a responsibility’.
Under the Consumer Law suppliers have to provide a safe product. There’s a guarantee for consumers in that law now, and I think that has had the de facto result of shifting responsibility for supplying product in a safe format to the supplier, where it fundamentally belongs. It doesn’t belong with the consumer.
The consumer’s responsibility lies in being able to use the product safely, and if a supplier can see that a product is going to be used inappropriately then there’s a responsibility on a supplier to make sure that the design is changed so it’s not used inappropriately, or if there’s information that goes with the product that that information shows the consumer how to use the product responsibly.
Gail: I think that, as we’ve discussed in other podcasts that I’ve done, design of the product is the primary opportunity to influence the safety of a product. And so the responsibility has to rest with the manufacturer, and the importer and whoever’s selling the product needs to understand how design can influence safety.
Tim, you’ve had some involvement with standards and other aspects, particularly nursery furniture; have you got any examples of how design can improve safety?
Tim: Well, I think a real obvious one is a cot. Twenty years ago a cot had all sorts of decorative corners on it, there were aspects of a cot that made it fundamentally unsafe, and as a result of that children used to be tragically injured in cots for no other reason other than the design of the product was inappropriate.
Over the years we’ve seen safety standards change relating to cots and now we have a cot that’s fundamentally a box. Whilst we still have children getting injured in cots, they’re getting injured because they’re climbing out of cots – the parent’s not aware of when to transition a child out of a cot into a toddler bed, and they end up falling out and injuring themselves. But fortunately that’s not related to the design of the product anymore, that’s related to the use of the cot, and that’s how we need to focus a lot of our education in product safety is about using products correctly.
With cots we don’t see kids being killed now because it’s an unsafe cot, and I think that’s a major advance, and the challenge now for suppliers and injury prevention advocates is: how do we make the information accessible in such a way that parents become empowered to use products correctly?
That’s the big challenge that we now face as an industry to say we will make a difference here, and I think having an ecosystem like the Pregnancy, Babies and Children’s Expo has, allows us to be able to communicate at many levels to parents. It allows us to be able to demonstrate safety at the event so that parents can be able to walk away knowing it’s their responsibility and they’re empowered to accept that responsibility, because people want to be able to use products safely.
From a supply point of view the biggest change is I think we’re seeing industry suppliers providing better product in design, but we’re also seeing the information about how to use those products is far better now than ever it was before.
Gail: And we talked before about consumer information, and how that information gets across. Have you got examples of say, suppliers providing information on their website about safety?
Tim: A lot of suppliers will provide the basic information required on their website, but a lot of them also have focussed their energy in designing products and they’ve tried to eliminate hazards out of products.
And I think the changes in recent years with the introduction of the Product Safety Framework handbook published by Standards Australia has given suppliers a much better understanding of hazards. Because a hazard isn’t jut a hazard in one particular product, it is a hazard across a number of products – if you design a hazard to eliminate protrusions where children might snag their clothing, then a protrusion can be a protrusion in a cot, or it can be a protrusion in a high chair, or it can be a protrusion in a pram. The simple solution is eliminate the protrusion, and a hazard methodology that addresses a hazard in a pram is just as effective as addressing a hazard in a cot.
So rather than try and reinvent the wheel and have a standard for this and a standard for another product, which will never happen because nobody has the time to be able to do standards, I think we now have a much better approach to safety across the board with the horizontal approach to managing it.
Gail: In fact Standards Australia (via SAI Global) is just about to publish a revised version of the Product Safety Framework Handbook, and it’s something that’s important for suppliers to know about. It complements some of the other international standards on product safety, and indeed helps everyone understand where product safety comes from from a design point of view. So maybe Tim that’s a good note to end on.