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Would you trust a safety system based on Amazon reviews?

Amazon

A leaked government email has revealed a strange suggestion to replace the European standards mark that indicates if a product is considered safe by the manufacturer. Instead, it suggests using Amazon reviews – what do you think of this idea?

According to news reports, it seems that government officials are seeking ideas to change the UK safety system post-Brexit. And it looks like these ideas could weaken protections for consumers, in agreement with industry.

The news suggests that government officials have been approaching industry groups and asking for volunteers that would no longer have to demonstrate that they comply with existing product standards.

We can probably agree that the current safety regime hasn’t been working all that well – recent debacles with Whirlpool owned fire-risk tumble-dryers are a case-in-point. But is relying on Amazon’s customer reviews to show that a product is safe and conforming to safety standards really the answer?

Amazon reviews

At first, I thought this was a spoof from the Daily Mash. However, last night’s Evening Standard confirmed the leaked proposal.

The leaked messaged stated:

‘I actually wonder, given the UK consumer penchant for internet shopping, the extent to which an Amazon review will supersede any mark to demonstrate conformity with safety requirements’

In case you aren’t familiar with Amazon’s reviews, they’re created by registered Amazon members, and, according to Amazon’s website, you have to have been ‘successfully charged for the purchase of the physical or digital item’ in order to submit a review.

As a previous Amazon customer, I’ve found reviews helpful when deciding which boxset of Friends to buy, or if the Lord of the Rings extended edition Blu-ray is really worth the extra money (FYI, it is).

However, I’m not sure these reviews are really capable of setting the safety regime of the country. While there are some helpful reviews in there to help decide which DVD to buy, I personally wouldn’t solely rely on these reviews. After all, these customers are probably unlikely to be testing these products with safety criteria in mind.

I mean, we are referring to the same site where reviews like this appear:

Safety regime

As many of you will know, we’re pushing for the government to reform the UK’s product safety regime as it’s clear it’s not doing enough to protect us all. So news of a government department tasked with protecting consumers exploring such wild ideas is worrying.

In our opinion, it flies in the face of Ministerial commitments to not weaken key consumer protections through Brexit.

What do you think of this leaked suggestion to change the UK’s safety system? How would you improve safety as we leave the EU?

Comments
Member

UK plugs without fuses can be found online and are a fire risk if a fault develops. Here is an example of from the Amazon UK website:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Extension-Charging-Protection-Appliences-Travelling/product-reviews/B073ZDVWB6/ref=cm_cr_dp_d_hist_1?ie=UTF8&filterByStar=one_star&reviewerType=all_reviews#reviews-filter-bar

Looking at the one star reviews shows that one person has spotted the unfused plug and the other had a bang and flash.

There are 22 five star reviews. I wonder if anyone has noticed that the three sockets differ from the BS 1363 sockets we are all familiar with.

Member
Member

The sockets in the photo look as if they are designed to take a variety of plugs, probably including a two-pin Europlug. Without a fuse in the plug of the extension cable, the only protection will be the 32 amp circuit breaker or 30 amp fuse in the distribution board (fuse box). The Europlug is designed for a current of 2.5 amps. It will work but if there is a fault there could well be a fire.

Member

I posted a link about a suspect laptop charger that was apparently sold by Dell, according to the Amazon website: https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/amazon-safety-brexit/#comment-1503350

Looking at the other “Dell” products I wonder if they are genuine Dell products.

I have my concerns about other websites too but I’m focusing on Amazon because it is relevant to our topic.

Member

We are in agreement (?). Can we not persuade Which? to buy a number of suspect products from the Amazon site and check whether they are genuine and safe (or not). Chargers, batteries, plugs and socket strips as examples. Any other suggestions?

You would think if manufacturers like Samsung, Apple, Dell say saw counterfeit products being advertised they would want to take action themselves. Or is Amazon too “important” to challenge? The two-pin plug saga has gone on and on without any effective action taken, it seems.

Member

I’m sure that manufacturers are very well aware of counterfeit products. Back in 2013, Apple offered free iPhone chargers in exchange for counterfeit and third party adapters, albeit for a limited period of time and maybe as a publicity stunt: https://www.apple.com/uk/support/usbadapter-takeback/ Counterfeit Dyson fans feature in a recent ‘Fake Britain’ programme. It’s very difficult to know whether a product is a third party product that complies with safety requirement or a dangerous counterfeit. We don’t know to what extent manufacturers do take action to alert the authorities to dangerous counterfeit products.

Which? could buy suspect chargers etc, but from what I have seen over the years, Which? generally identifies problems (sometimes using undercover investigation) or is informed of them, and then passes its concerns to all the relevant organisations. Here it would be relevant to contact Trading Standards, both over the potentially dangerous products and the failure of Amazon to ensure products on its website are safe. I would like it confirmed that since money goes into Amazon’s account it must have overall responsibility and cannot simply leave it up to Marketplace traders to behave responsibly. Even if Which? was to buy some products that look as if they may be unsafe, that would not help with those products that look OK but might be a fire risk or could electrocute.

Since Which? raised concerns about two-pin plugs years ago, I’m deeply disappointed that Amazon and others are still selling them. I believe that it is probably seen as a convenience issue and the dangers are not recognised. That would fit in with us being assured by Patrick Steen that Amazon will exchange goods with the wrong plug.

I don’t want to be prescriptive about how the problem is addressed but will keep pushing for an effective solution.

Member

It bothers me that nothing has been done. The business seems to just go on as normal. Which? is there to protect consumers. I’d like it to tell us what action it can take or, if none, why not.

“Spot checks” by Which? could identify if Amazon is failing in its responsibilities to allow the sale of safe and genuine products through its portal. If that were widely publicised then maybe Amazon would think harder about its policy.

Member

Would it be fair for Which? to target Amazon when other retailers are also selling dodgy products? Imagine if Which? had targeted Marks & Spencer a few years ago for selling chicken that was significantly more contaminated than that sold by Tesco. Many people love Amazon and would not want to see it singled out.

Which? does focus on particular companies when there is an obvious reason – for example VW over the emissions problems, Whirlpool over fire risk, and Dixons over their supplementary charges for laptops.

As with the problem of many being overcharged for energy, I want something done about companies selling dangerous counterfeit goods online but I’m happy to leave it up to Which? to decide on the best strategy.

Maybe a service like ActionFraud could be used by the public to report obvious concerns but that could allow many dangerous items to go undetected.