The barrage of big-name toy recall notices coming out of the Consumer Product Safety Commission has overwhelmed many parents. Thousands of individual toys are affected, and knowing which items in your child's overflowing toy box should be removed can be more than confusing.
But if you buy your kids' toys from certain retailers, they'll do the work for you.
Online stores -- like eToys.com, Amazon.com and Walmart.com -- are taking the sting out of the recent run of recalls by sending e-mail notices to customers who bought an affected item on their sites.
The notices point out exactly what the product is, when it was purchased and offer detailed online information about the recall and what a consumer should do with the affected item.
"We feel it's a service we can offer our customers to notify them immediately when our records show that an item they purchased from eToys is under recall," said Sheliah Gilliland, an eToys spokeswoman.
According to Gilliland, eToys started issuing e-mail recall notices seven years ago, and more than 7,000 e-mails have gone out as a result of Mattel pulling products off the market.
The e-mail alerts, which are standard operating procedure at nearly every online store, are a benefit their bricks-and-mortar competition just can't provide.
"When someone buys in a store, they might buy with cash, they might pay with a gift card and so it might be more difficult for a retailer to track down who bought specific items," said Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation. "You might know that 100 of these toys were purchased in your store, but you won't know who purchased them."
Davis says that retailers, both online and off, are following the recent toy recall trend closely.
"In the short term, retailers are going to be getting products that have been recalled off their shelves and -- to what extent they can -- notifying customers to let them know that they may have purchased a product that they need to bring back to the store or send back to the manufacturer," said Davis.
For consumers who did not buy online, there is an option that will get recall notices sent right to an e-mail inbox -- directly from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The government agency allows people to sign up for e-mail notices via a special Web site: http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.aspx.
But until bricks-and-mortar stores figure out how to connect their sales to particular customers, an easy online "heads up" will continue to be a benefit of buying from a dot-com.
"Because it's something that many customers might not expect, they're very pleased when they get it even if they've already heard about the recall," said Patty Smith, an Amazon.com spokeswoman. "It's just a way for us to make the process a little easier for them."