Consumer Product Safety Commission:

Awareness, Use, and Usefulness of

GAO-13-306: Published: Mar 11, 2013. Publicly Released: Mar 11, 2013.

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Alicia P. Cackley
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What GAO Found

The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has used various approaches to inform the public about, including using social media, public service announcements, and printed materials, and promoting the site during speeches and events. CPSC's efforts to inform the public about have been part of a larger effort to raise awareness about the agency as a whole. While CPSC has employed many key practices for consumer education planning, it has not established metrics for measuring the success of its efforts. Without such metrics, the agency cannot determine which efforts have had the most impact on increasing awareness and use of the site.

While CPSC collects some data on the category of persons, such as consumers or health care professionals, who submit reports (one of the main functions of the site), it does not collect data about who is using the site to search for information (the other main function). In addition, to minimize the reporting burden on users, CPSC has not asked for demographic data about the users (such as their age, gender, or income level). Therefore, it was difficult for GAO to assess, as mandated by Congress, whether a broad range of the public has used the site. Moreover, without such data, CPSC has been limited in its ability to target its marketing and outreach efforts to increase use of the site.

Many consumers in GAO's usability tests thought the site generally was easy to use and had helpful information, but identified areas for improvement. The consumers generally could perform basic searches and follow instructions to report an unsafe product, and although none were aware of the site before the tests, most said they would use the site again. However, some of the search functions posed challenges. In addition, some consumers expressed concern about registering with the site and said this might prevent them from completing a report. Other consumers were not clear about the site's purpose, thinking it would focus on safe rather than unsafe products. By addressing the usability challenges GAO identified, CPSC could help users take full advantage of all the available features of Furthermore, cost-effective federal resources exist across the government to help agencies improve the usefulness of their sites.

Why GAO Did This Study

In the wake of increased product recalls in 2007-2008, Congress passed the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (CPSIA). Among other things, CPSIA required CPSC to establish a database on the safety of consumer products that is publicly available, searchable, and accessible through the CPSC website. In response, CPSC launched (http:// in March 2011, which has two main functions--to provide (1) a mechanism for online reporting of product safety issues and (2) the ability to search for these issues or others, such as recalls. CPSIA also required GAO to study the general utility of the website. This report examines (1) CPSC's efforts to inform the public about, (2) who is using the website and to what extent, and (3) the extent to which consumers have found the website to be useful. To do this, GAO analyzed agency documents and data from 2011 to 2012; interviewed CPSC officials, researchers, and consumer and industry groups; reviewed federal standards, guidance, and best practices for website usability; and conducted website usability tests with 37 consumers in three locations.

What GAO Recommends

CPSC should (1) establish and incorporate metrics to assess efforts to increase awareness and use of, (2) look for cost-effective ways of gathering additional data about site use, and (3) implement cost-effective usability improvements to the site. CPSC supported these recommendations.

For more information, contact Alicia Puente Cackley at (202) 512-8678 or

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Open

    Comments: The Commission states that it measures overall awareness of in a manner similar to the manner in which it measures the awareness of by the number of visits to the website. The Commission states that website visits is a reasonable proxy measure of overall awareness that is cost-effective to collect. According to the Commission, in fiscal year 2014, had 2.4 million visits and 863,000 visitors, where visits are the number of sessions the site was hit and visitors are the count of unique IP addresses who came to the site. Also, the Commission developed a National Awareness Survey to determine overall awareness of CPSC on a national level, which contained three draft questions specifically related to The Commission has not administered the survey; it is pending approval from OMB. As of October 2015, the Commission was responding to the final set of technical questions put forward by OMB and prepared to begin the survey process within two weeks of final approval. After the Commission has administered the survey and begun analyzing responses, we will assess whether to close this recommendation.

    Recommendation: To improve the awareness, use, and usefulness of, the CPSC should establish and incorporate metrics to assess efforts to increase awareness and use of

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Commission reports that staff explored technologies that are available to conduct measurement and analysis of website usage. In May 2015, staff began using a new analytics tool (Google Analytics), which gives them the ability to measure and analyze web traffic. This tool allows staff to identify first-time visitors, unique visitors, which site referral page visitors come from, bounce rate, and how long a visitor spends on a page. The Commission reports that it is collecting and using this data to assist in future improvements to the website.

    Recommendation: To improve the awareness, use, and usefulness of, the CPSC should look for cost-effective ways of gathering additional data about the users and their use of

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: The Commission has begun making usability improvements to by improving the search functionality and improving the user experience of submitting incident reports. However, the Commission has not made improvements that would increase users' understanding of the site's purpose. For example, the Commission has not explicitly stated the purpose of the site using brief text or a tagline.

    Recommendation: To improve the awareness, use, and usefulness of, the CPSC should implement cost-effective usability improvements to, taking into account the results of any existing usability testing or any new testing CPSC may choose to conduct.

    Agency Affected: Consumer Product Safety Commission


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