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Cash for Cribs? Toys 'R Us Takes Aim at Old Baby Gear

The government's "Cash for Clunkers" program has shown that consumers are willing to bite at a good deal. And what's a better deal than trading in old, unwanted items to get a discount on a replacement?

With that in mind, we'll no doubt start seeing marketers pitching some interesting trade-in programs.

Long before "Clunkers" showed up on the scene, Toys R Us began working on its own trade-in program, aimed at getting potentially unsafe cribs, car seats and other baby items out of circulation.

In drafting the program, it consulted with manufacturers of baby gear, such as Newell-Rubbermaid's

Graco, and child safety advocates. But then the government announced its wildly successful trade-in program, and the retailer wondered what impact that would have on its own plans.

"We wondered if that was going to create 'good excitement' or 'bad,'" said Toys R Us CEO Jerry Storch. But ultimately, the company realized that "Clunkers" had the positive goal of putting more environmentally friendly cars on the road.

"That's a great cause," he said. "We're working for improvements in child safety, and that's a great cause, too."

The way the program works is very simple: consumers can trade in a crib, car seat or a number of other baby products for a 20 percent discount on a new item at the store.

The retailer will begin accepting the used cribs, car seats, strollers, high chairs and other items on Friday, and will continue to do so until Sept. 20 at all Babies R Us and Toys R Us stores. There are no limits to the number of products that can be redeemed, and a person doesn't need to swap a like item for a like item. (In other words, you can bring in a car seat and get a discount on a play yard if you'd like.) Once collected, the products will be destroyed.

"There has been a rush to the cheap in this economy," Storch said. "...Cheap is not always good when it comes to safety."

Tough economic times have parents looking to save money and turning to second-hand baby items. However, some types of baby gear aren't well-suited for being handed down or resold. Recalls, wear and tear, and improving standards can make these products unsafe.

Take recalls. According to consumer advocacy organization Kids in Danger, less than 30 percent of baby items are returned to the manufacturer when a recall is issued. That means there's an awful lot of recalled cribs still in circulation.

Beyond recalls, used equipment can be damaged even if it isn't immediately visible. Car seats that have been in a vehicle that was in an accident can often get damaged. Also, materials used to make car seats can degrade over time, and their parts or instruction books may be missing, which can lead to improper use.

Improving safety standards for cribs also has made many older ones obsolete. Toys R Us has recently stopped placing orders for drop-side crib models, which have been involved in numerous safety recalls prompted by infants that became trapped between the frame and the mattress.

"There's been significant federal legislation passed within the last year, setting increasingly stringent requirements," said Storch.

He hopes to see not only parents, but also daycare centers take advantage of the offer.

"We know consumers want to stretch their dollars," he said. "...This provides an incentive so we can lure those products out of the commerce stream."

More from Consumer Nation:

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com

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