Black Diamond really shit the bed with their most recent beacon safety statement.
I know what you’re thinking, “you’re a year behind,” but no, these are *new* safety issues with Pieps and Black Diamond beacons.
I have a lot of thoughts about their communication and their decisions varied from somewhat to wildly unethical. But I also know that I am very verbose. So here’s the TL;DR: The Consumer Product Safety Commission exists to investigate unsafe products and execute formal recalls, whether through forced or voluntary participation of the manufacturer. Numbers help them prioritize what to investigate, so if you are concerned with Pieps / BD beacons or their communication and replacement process, use this link to report it. Only reference the current safety issue (electronic defect). Last year’s mechanical defect where the beacon could slide from transmit to search mode accidentally has already been investigated and resolved with CPSC. You do not need to be a Pieps / BD beacon user to report the issue.
So, diving into the details. But first, hi, if you’re new here, I really like doing consumer advocacy in the ski world. That usually means writing gear reviews since advertisers are bad at helping the customer find the right outerwear, bindings, or skis. I am not a lawyer, but I spent 6 years at Amazon, 4 within their Private Label apparel team. Consumer protection groups see Amazon as a big fish to catch, and therefore they watch them closely, so teams went through legal training several times a year, and I was the one person from the business side who helped lead that with the legal team. In every role since, I’ve spent a lot of time pushing for legally compliant marketing standards, whether that was in my scope of work or not.
Okay, so what happened? Black Diamond issued a safety statement on Apr. 15 about an issue that causes some beacons not to switch into search and transmit mode when those settings are selected on the beacon. They simply instruct users to test their beacons, but don’t elaborate on whether these are defects present from day 1 on the beacon, or whether they stop working over time. The instruct users to contact their warranty department if their beacon fails the test.
There are a lot of problems with this:
That is a recall issue, not a warranty issue. When a company has a defect that could lead to injury or death, they are required to report it to a federal organization, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, within 24 hours. Even a product that can very rarely result in severe injury or death is serious enough for a formal recall. The manufacturer can either have CPSC investigate the recall, or they can “fast-track” the recall process and go ahead and get products back from consumers in a shorter window (~20 days). CPSC and the company issue a joint news release if the product is recalled, and it’s registered in the recall registry. CPSC also expects companies to adequately communicate the recall based on what they see fit (press release, email, social, TV ads, retail store posters, etc).
Warranties are different. They’re a contract. When you buy a Pieps or BD beacon, they have a 3 year period where they promise to replace or repair your product under certain circumstances. Black Diamond made the call to action for all beacons of those models to be tested, whether they were in the window or not. They’re including units that are not covered by the warranty contract because it’s not a warranty issue. And the fact that they call it “safety call” is essentially calling it a safety recall, but without the required federal oversight to ensure that Black Diamond is doing enough to protect their customers.
Black Diamond doesn’t specify whether the issues are evident over the lifetime of the product, or whether all beacons are at risk for malfunctioning over time. (A guy at Rainier this weekend had his Pieps suddenly stop switching into search mode, but a population of 1 does not a representative sample make). Right now, they’re only replacing beacons experiencing the defect, but if CPSC finds that all beacons are at risk of the issue, they’d force the company to replace all of them (or repair / refund would also satisfy the recall).
The communication is way too vague. In most formal recalls, the manufacturers give a lot of details about which units are included in the retail and which units aren’t: serial numbers, purchase dates, etc. They also give more details about the failure point. It helps the customers understand the urgency around getting their recall serviced, but it works in the manufacturer’s favor. Customers who aren’t affected get assurance that their product isn’t dangerous and likely never will be. Black Diamond was just like “heyo! Some beacons are shit! Don’t use’em!” and dipped. Not to mention, they dropped a bomb on a Friday, during ski season, right before a holiday weekend where people can’t get their questions answered. (They’ve yet to respond to any clarification questions on social media either).
The communication strategy was downright terrible. Black Diamond made customer contacts in 3 ways: an Instagram post (no story), and Facebook post, and an email to customers (unsure if it was to everyone on their distro lists or just confirmed beacon customers). There was no information on their website for most of the day, and even now, it’s a small sliver, below the fold on their home page, that’s hard to see, much less read. (The sitewide banner is still dedicated to 15% off when you sign up for email. Bigger priority, apparently).
On the product safety message page, it points customers to submit a contact through the warranty program and links to the warranty form. There’s a general form, but also a voluntary Pieps recall form. However, that form is only for the DSP recall from 2021. The UX makes it incredibly unclear for customers to navigate the return process.
All of their messaging was issued on Friday, which is statistically not a great day for social and email engagement (don’t be surprised when you see this piece pushed on Tuesday), and holidays don’t help. Unless a customer chooses to receive communication from Black Diamond through social or email, there aren’t any other avenues to reach them. Most customers don’t follow every company they buy from. For reference, 197 million people shop Amazon every month. 95 million have Prime. Only 3.4 million follow them on Instagram.
But even the posts they did publish buried the message. They posted a 10-slide carousel post. The first 9 posts were versions of their beacons on a white background. The last slide has text instructing customers to test their beacon and click the link for additional information.
The post looks almost indistinguishable from carousels used in sponsored posts. Quick! One of these 8 screenshots is an important safety message, and the other 7 are ads:
And therefore, it’s not surprising that this safety message has 1/3 of the engagement compared to last year’s recall post.
Beacons are still live on the website. Did Black Diamond confirm that their stock was defect-free before telling the public that there was an issue? Or are they actively selling beacons with a risk of defect? And retailers like Evo and REI still have product live on their site. How do they know if their stock is defect free? I’d be less concerned if they shared more information about the defect frequency and which beacons were impacted, I’d be less concerned.
Closing off: Anyone can report unsafe products to the CPSC in hopes that Black Diamond issues a compliant recall and effectively communicates the information to customers, and there’s strength in numbers.