/ Money, Shopping

Why online marketplaces need more regulation

In recent years there has been rapid growth in the number of people buying from online marketplaces, including sites like eBay and Amazon Marketplace, with over 90% of people in the UK having bought from one.

Beware unsafe Christmas lights 16/12/2019

Last month we set out our calls for improved regulation of online marketplaces, specifically around the safety of products sold on the sites, after repeatedly finding serious safety concerns across a range of product types.

Through our testing, we’ve now uncovered dangerous Christmas lights for sale on eBay, AliExpress and Wish that could electrocute you or cause a fire, the potentially devastating consequences of which are shown here:

In total, almost half of the lights that we purchased from online marketplaces failed our electrical safety tests. By contrast, both sets of lights that we purchased from the high street passed all of our safety tests.

If you think you may’ve bought lights that failed our tests, take them down immediately.

This latest example confirms why the new government must act urgently to ensure online marketplaces have more responsibility for the safety of goods sold on their sites.

If you’ve bought an unsafe product from an online marketplace, let us know about your experience in the comments.

Original convo 20/11/2019

The choice and convenience offered by these sites means they are no longer a novel way of shopping for millions of people, but a part of everyday life.

Yet through our testing work, Which? has repeatedly found alarming evidence of unsafe and illegal products being sold on many of the biggest online marketplaces, putting countless people at risk and resulting in hundreds of listings being removed from the sites.

Serious safety concerns that we have uncovered include:

Gaps in protection

The failure of the product safety system to keep pace with people’s changing shopping habits has resulted in critical gaps in consumer protections. 

Online marketplaces are not currently responsible for ensuring the safety of products sold on their sites, removing unsafe products from sale or notifying customers when something goes wrong.

Regulation of online marketplaces has also failed to keep pace with consumers’ expectations, with many people assuming that the sites are responsible for ensuring safety and 70% of marketplace shoppers telling us they think the law needs changing so that this is the case.

Take responsibility

That’s why we’re calling on the next government to take action to give online marketplaces – some of the biggest companies in the world – more responsibility for the safety of products sold on their sites, so that people can be confident they are only buying safe products. 

We also need an enforcement system, including Trading Standards and the Office for Product Safety and Standards, that has the powers, tools and resources to effectively police the sites, taking action when people are put at risk.

Read more about what we’re calling for in our news story

Who do you feel should be responsible for the safety of products sold in online marketplaces? (choose all that apply)
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Have you purchased an unsafe product on an online marketplace before, or worried about potentially doing so?

Who do you think should be responsible for product safety online, and why do you think so?

Tell us your story in the comments below.

Comments
Brian Peter Jones says:
17 December 2019

Bought a product online last month that was not what I ordered in the advertisement and was totally useless, received all sorts of excuses from supplier, got my money back eventually but cost me nearly eleven pounds in postage and packing to return, no prises for guessing where the country of origin product was sent from.

If the item you bought was wrongly described, it is something Amazon, ebay or whoever would have been interested in and they could probably have helped get you a refund without you paying postage. Misleading advertising is relatively serious and is something our Trading Standards would like to know about.

Brian Peter Jones says:
19 December 2019

Hi Vernon it was one of those pop up adverts for a lifewave antenna that was supposed to connect to my broadband, what I received was something that plugged into a wall socket and was supposed to use the whole electrical home wiring to receive TV signals, nothing like what I ordered and didn’t do anything like what they claimed, even the product that was sent to me had changed the spelling of said product to livewave instead of lifewave, just one big scam eh?

Certainly a scam – I did a search and found no references to Lifewave but plenty for Livewave and some of those were youtube product tests that concluded it wasn’t worth the money and a random bit of wire would perform just as well.

Make sellers (including market place providers) responsible for any damage that is caused by bad design. Give insurers the power to charge eBay, Amazon, etc for the costs of the damage. Let them try to get money out of the sellers, no hiding from the fact that seller is somewhere in China.

dolly says:
17 December 2019

the cheap nasty and cheerfull should be taken off the market those who manufacture and sell these dangerouse goods should be prosecuted

Birdman says:
17 December 2019

if electrical items are ALL manufactured with safety in mind first, there will be very little to worry about later in the chain of sales and at home end of use.
You can’t risk not being safe can you now.

The problem is there are people out there whose *sole* goal is a fast buck. They make something that prima facie does the job, with longevity, finer points of performance and safety almost not considered at all, wrap it up in a box looking like the real McCoy, sell it cheaper than the cosher product – flog a few thousand and disappear into the ether, and by the time the first few of these have either failed, taken out other equipment or compromised life, the perpetrators are back in the woodwork nowhere to be seen.

Geoffrey says:
17 December 2019

All goods from these companys should be checked when they enter our country,if found to be fake send them back to the country of origin, at there expence. Not into our land fill.

l

Bonaventure says:
17 December 2019

The Manufactures and sellars should be responseable andGovernmwnt take steps to prosecute whoever sellsrubbish to the general public.

How could our Government go about prosecuting sellers based outside the UK?

jill milkins says:
17 December 2019

they should be passed by trading standards, i.e. not allowed to enter country if they fail

How should we stop them, if individual customers order them on the internet and then the vendors ship them to the UK?

Should we expect Customs & Excise or Trading Standards to open and inspect every single package coming into the UK from overseas?

Do you have any idea how much that would cost?

What would be done with anything failing those checks?

There was a very telling session of witnesses to the Environmental Audit Committee earlier this year – as part of their Inquiry into toxic chemicals in everyday life, i.e. the head of the Office for Product Safety and Standards, a representative from Amazon and an officer from Trading Standards Institute. The committee rightly gave them all a tough time, particularly about the tidal wave of illegal and dangerous products that are entering the country, especially via internet sellers like Amazon. It was clear from Mr Amazon’s replies that they are doing next to nothing about this. And the OPSS is doing very little either, despite its £13m a year budget. Mr OPSS said at one point that they had put aside £300K for Trading Standards to undertake testing work. This paltry amount raised a chuckle or two from the committee, and even more when later Mr TSI said that most Trading Standards offices do not have the funds to buy and transport products to have them tested. I have friends in Trading Standards who report that their funds have been slashed so much in recent years that they mostly cannot afford to undertake any prosecutions; instead, they’re reduced to sending stern emails to potential miscreants, asking them to stop being naughty.

Some here have long asked for Trading Standards to be properly funded and brought up to strength. It will no doubt take time to re-establish the expertise I presume it once had.

My (outsiders) impression is we should retain local (county/city) offices for local issues but establish a national version to deal with country-wide issues, such as Whirlpool problems, Amazon, Currys PCW et al.

@brianllewellyn, Do you have views on how best to deal with the current lack of control, Brian?

Brian – It’s good to hear from someone who has had a little insight into what is going on because otherwise we are guessing and relying on what is published.

Our present system for dealing with safety and compliance issues dates from when there were far fewer products and suppliers, before online sales. It’s common knowledge that Trading Standards has inadequate funding, but even with ten or twenty times the funding and could take proper action against rogue traders that might not stop others offering dodgy products for sale online.

Malcolm: TS had their budgets slashed by 44% a few years ago and by a similar amount recently. The TSI officer testifying to the EAC reported that they have lost 59% of their officers in recent times, and most of those are experienced people. A good TS friend of mine quit last year. Her county had gone bankrupt and told its TS officers that they could no longer undertake ANY prosecutions – something the BBC tends to forget to tell us in their consumer programmes where they give the impression we are well defended by TS, the police, etc.

The lack of control is frightening and I don’t really have any answers. In my specialist area – furniture flammability – the problem is even worse because the government itself proved the UK regulations do not work but refuses to put them right. They were told by TS five years ago that they could no longer prosecute the Regulations because of that (aside from their budget cuts). Hence there has been only one prosecution under the furniture regulations in the past 5 years and that was just for mislabelling. It’s very clear that the industry is well aware of this and, believe me, this means you cannot rely on furniture manufacturers – large and small – to be producing safe products.

Wavechange: I completely agree. A few years back, a Trading Standards office wrote to Amazon to tell them they were illegally selling furniture to the UK market. As mentioned above, the UK has the most stringent furniture flammability regulations in the world (even if they don’t work!). Amazon was selling sofas from Belgium and other places, that did not comply with the UK regs. Anyone selling furniture in the UK must comply. Amazon wrote back to say they weren’t the supplier; they were just the agent, i.e. the Belgium company was selling from outside the UK to consumers inside the UK (which is legal under the regs). TS replied that in their view Amazon WAS the supplier, because it took the money, gave a guarantee and handled any consumer complaints. Amazon insisted that it wasn’t so TS paid for (expensive) legal advice which gave the view that internet sellers like Amazon and ebay ARE suppliers. What did Amazon do? Still refused to agree; took off its site just that one Belgium sofa, and continues to sell loads of other non-compliant sofas. This principle applies of course to lots of other products which come under national regulations. What is the OPSS doing about this? You guessed it.

Thanks Brian. It seems to me that product safety is so important to consumers that Which? should take a far more active role in demanding change. I’d willingly increase my subscription, if necessary, if there were more resources needed simply to deal with this.
@ddalton – Daniel, what are Which? intending to do about this?

Malcolm, I agree. For example, in the current issue of Which? there is a big review of mattresses. Fair enough, in terms of durability, build, comfort, etc. But it’s a shame that there is no mention of how toxic pretty much all UK mattresses are because of the large volumes of flame retardants used to comply with flammability regulations that don’t even work. The Environmental Audit Committee was particularly horrified to learn that organophosphate chemicals are used in UK mattresses as flame retardants, the same kind that were banned from sheep dip because they’re so toxic. The EAC recommended that the government put these regulations right and specifically recommended that children’s mattresses be taken out of scope. Unfortunately, the government, in the form of BEIS, responded to in effect say it’s going to continue kicking changes into the long grass for many years to come. Yes, I’d also like to know what Which? is doing about this.

Thanks Brian – Ever since I studied chemistry at university I have been concerned about how we use chemicals in everyday products and food, and how they can affect our environment. Many products are no longer permitted to be used for certain purposes. It’s now well known that indoor air can contain a cocktail of harmful and potential chemicals from plastics, furnishings, surface coatings and so on. The best we can do is to keep our homes ventilated. You might have thought that the well established dangers of organophosphate pesticides would have been a sufficient warning to ensure that they were not used in furnishings, but that did not happen.

The Amazon issue has been discussed periodically, though there is no Conversation devoted to it and we have had no input from Which? as far as I can recall. I don’t see their ‘marketplace’ or those that have followed as an adequate way of ensuring that safety issues are adequately policed, and Which? has recently found examples of dangerous electrical goods being sold on marketplaces. I’m not aware that Amazon or its marketplace traders issues recalls, just a link to the EU Rapex database.

I wonder what OPSS is doing with the funding it does receive.

Good question regarding what is the OPSS doing? Having worked in its predecessor, I have a pretty good idea. First, the culture in Whitehall departments has changed quite a bit over the past ten years or so. There used to be a fair bit of wanting to serve the public. But that gradually changed until the department’s existence was the be all and end all, with the public largely fobbed-off (we were actually told by managers to do this: don’t answer your phones or if you just tell them to go to the website, even though there’s nothing on the website). In my last few years at BEIS, they introduced ‘Corporate Objectives’ for your yearly work plan. These were ephemeral to say the least but were meant to get you being more “corporate”. So it was that people would put on “French Evenings” for example; laying on cheese and wine for the team; or cleaning up the tea point for a few weeks. I knew the end was nigh they year our big boss announced that our corporate objectives were now more important than our work objectives.

Second, this has led to a kind of self-delusion accompanied by inaction, by which Whitehall civil servants actually believe that constant internal meetings and notes of those meetings is work. Which might start to explain how the OPSS can justify 300 people doing what 20 used to do (and most of them were hardly pushed).

My problem was the Regulations I dealt with were rare – UK-only, not EU. So while most of my colleagues could leave it to Europe, I had to actually do something. And of course my biggest mistake was trying to put them right . . .

I realise we are well off our topic of regulating online marketplaces. I was one of those who had hoped that the formation of OPSS would help here and in other ways, such as restoring Trading Standards as an effective service.

A year or two ago I identified several products on sale on marketplaces (by appearance combined with at least one review confirming the problem) and explored what action could be taken. Since it was not a local problem I contacted National Trading Standards and was told that it does not deal with the public. I tried to get action locally but was told that this would be very difficult without making a purchase.

In the past year or so, Which? has managed to identify potentially hazardous products and while these have been removed from sale, there has been no indication of any action to deal with those goods that have already been purchased.

We keep repeating this. I’d like to see Which? make proposals as to what is needed to improve the current situation, Consumer protection, especially safety, should be one of their priorities. Clearly the law regarding online market places needs to be clarified, amended if necessary, but punitive action taken against those who help in the distribution of dangerous and unsafe products.

Even without adequate legal sanctions I would have hoped that supposedly responsible traders like Amazon and eBay would recognise the dangers of their current control (lack of) of their marketplaces and simply act responsibly by putting a stop to the sale of such products. They need to devise the ways to do it. Meantime perhaps Which? would stop promoting Amazon as a seller in much the same way as it warns against Whirlpool.

I’ve said my bit elsewhere about Which? promoting retailers. The majority of members must be perfectly capable of doing web searches to decide where best to buy and the rest could be helped by Member Services.

Which? has demonstrated a problem with marketplace traders and I cannot see any viable solution other than the marketplace taking full responsibility for those companies that trade there. I’m not sure how this could be achieved in practice.

eBay is different from sites such as Amazon because individuals often sell on eBay. Never having sold anything on eBay, I don’t know the seller’s obligations but it seems unlikely that the expectations will be the same as those for a company.

I wrote to Which? a few years ago (and had a telephone conversation) about the fact the Furniture Regulations have been proven not to work, therefore the entire country is at risk. I gave them all the evidence which as said is on BEIS’s own website. See below for their response. Since then, of course, the Environmental Audit Committee has seen the same evidence and found against BEIS. Perhaps Which? would like to review its decision in light of this.

Let’s be clear: it is in no way hard for Which? to prove the points but even if it was, surely they have a responsibility to at least point consumers in the direction of the evidence so they can make up their own minds?

“I’m sorry to be slow to get back to you. We were both really interested by what you had to say and can see that there are clearly issues here. At the moment we feel this specific story isn’t something we’re going to take forward. That’s because I do feel it would be hard for us to prove some of the points you made about the proposed new test – I know that isn’t how you feel about it but the burden of proof is with the publisher and it’s a high threshold to cross.

“You have however brought the wider issues to our attention and I’m grateful for that.

“Thank you again for getting in touch, it was a valuable conversation to have – thank you so much for your time.

Alice (Rickman)”

The problem is that chemical companies can put out a new say flame retardant claiming it’s safe. It’s then put into millions of products over years until someone else spends a lot of time and money proving that it’s in fact toxic. No worries: the chemical industry already has its near-identical replacement on the market. A good/bad example is the brominated flame retardant, DecaBDE: banned under the Stockholm Convention last year (and the States a couple of years before that) because it was found to be toxic. However, it is still in millions of UK homes, in sofas, chairs, mattresses etc. Unlike with asbestos, no one is doing anything about removing Deca from our homes. As for organophosphates – part of the problem is that in the UK government departments are very poor at inter-communicating. Thus, while Defra knows all about these chemicals in sheep dip, the Department for Business is pretending it knows nothing about their presence in furniture. If they got their heads together more, it would be harder for BEIS to do nothing about it. Which of course is why they don’t like to get their heads together – could mean work.

We’re very bad at dealing with toxic chemicals here, or even raising awareness of them. In the USA, there have been some terrific documentaries about how the chemical industry is poisoning everyone for profit. One of them, “The Devil We Know” (just made into a Hollywood movie with Mark Ruffalo coming out here in January called “Dark Waters”) is about how Du Pont was found guity in court (the case took 25 years) of knowingly poisoning thousands of US citizens and polluting the blood of just about every person there and pretty much the rest of the world with the main chemical used to make Teflon. HBO also made a movie called “Toxic Hot Seat” about how a group of green scientists, US firefighters, the Chicago Tribune and the Governor of California took on the mighty flame retardant industry and won, removing the need for flame retardants in US furniture. It’s the same chemicals and companies putting this crap into our furniture but the majority of the UK public is still totally unaware of the issue.

Dick Symonds says:
23 December 2019

It would be a big topic but I think Which should investigate the standard of online purveyors, especially including the biggest, Amazon. Have you noticed how it is now almost impossible to communicate with them, the internet organisations, although they get through to you only too easily They leave no email address, or phone number, only a pre-formatted set of ‘questions’. Amazon, I have discovered , has no complaints procedure – isnt this something required by law, UK law at least? It is only too easy to tick something that renders you liable to monthly subscriptions for ever, and very difficult to find how to stop. They wll stay as the masters of the universe unless we start to fight back.

It’s easy to contact Amazon. I posted this some time ago, and assumed everyone had it bookmarked.

It’s worth reading this document, to which there is a link at the end of Daniel’s introduction: https://www.which.co.uk/policy/consumers/5234/onlinemarketplaces

This makes it very clear that, at present, those using online marketplaces do not have the same protection as those buying direct from retailers, either online or in shops. The recent Which? policy paper “Online marketplaces and product safety” (link provided in the above document) provides a very useful insight into the problems. The recommendations are worthy but I fail to see how they can be achieved in practice. For example: “Recommendation 1 – Online marketplaces should be required to ensure that consumer products offered for sale by sellers on their sites are safe.” How do we make this happen?

One problem identified in the Which? policy paper is the difficulty in taking effective action to prevent individuals buying non-compliant and dangerous products from overseas sellers.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is to make the public aware that products bought from marketplaces could potentially be dangerous. A dodgy phone charger may work fine to start with but if something goes wrong it could cause electrocution or start a fire.

For the time being, the safest option seems to be to buy direct from established companies and avoid unbranded products.

John Ward says:
5 January 2020

There must be a way in which quality assurance systems and product certification processes can be used to attest the safety of merchandise. Where satisfactory assurance cannot be established then online marketplaces should not accept the listing. With power goes responsibility, so it is no good such operators saying that such controls would stifle trade or force up the price of goods. We have to educate the public to understand that some things are not open to compromise. Dangerous products could cause harm to people outside the immediate household; should the insurance industry exercise some influence and warn the government that it will no longer tolerate a slack liability and enforcement regime?

Beryl says:
5 January 2020

The insurance industry is equally flawed.

Where a problem has been detected with a marketplace I believe that it should be monitored to make sure that it is taking appropriate action to avoid its traders offering dangerous goods for sale, and that the costs involved in monitoring should be recoverable from the company providing the marketplace.

Those living in flats, tower bocks and staying in hotels are at greatest risk from other people using dangerous goods.

It would be good if the insurance industry would make some input.

Online marketplaces should have to comply with the same regulations as any retailer. That is, ensure that they sell compliant products. This requires effort for the retailers – they should properly check the integrity of suppliers, the documentation and test evidence supporting regulatory compliance, and unless they are sure of the product’s provenance not promote it. I see that as no different to what regular retailers are required to do.

As for individuals buying from abroad I see nothing we can do to stop that, but I’d suggest the numbers pale into insignificance when compared to what Amazon, for example, might assist onto the market place.

I would not only recover costs from the market place operator but, much more importantly, impose severe financial penalties to ensure they were diligent and responsible about what they helped onto the market – make it not worthwhile playing with consumer safety. Use the funds to support a much more capable Trading Standards organisation.

Our government and its predecessors have allowed the problem to develop and as it stands, marketplace traders rather than the marketplace itself is responsible for complying with regulations. We would like to see marketplaces having the same legal responsibilities as online retailers and those with shops but that will require legislation.

From the Which? policy paper: “Successive government administrations have also heavily promoted primary authority partnerships (PAPs) between businesses and local authorities, where the business receives tailored, assured advice from one local authority. In the case of Amazon, this is Hertfordshire Trading Standards. For eBay, it is Westminster City Council. There is also an e-crime National Trading Standards (NTS) team, hosted by North Yorkshire County Council, which co-ordinates national activity. Primary authority, however, does not help with those marketplaces or platforms that are based outside of the UK or EU, such as Wish.com. The OPSS is currently looking at online sales and has taken over the lead on this from NTS.”

I believe that local Trading Standards offices should go back to helping the public sort out problem with local traders and problems with online purchases be dealt with by a national service that can collect information and intelligence. At present, National Trading Standards will have nothing to do with individual consumers.

Nor will many local Trading Standards. The whole organisation needs rearranging so that local trading standards deal with local issues and act as a reporting point for other issues – all directly approachable by the public. National Trading Standards needs to deal with national issues – that affect all consumers – such as Whirlpool, Amazon, Currys PCW.

Has Which? made any representations to address this current lack of adequate consumer protection?

I contacted NTS two or three years ago and was told that they were a company that does not deal with the public. At least their website now has this information: “Please note: National Trading Standards cannot help members of the public with specific complaints or advice about goods, services or specific businesses.”

This needs to change.

Of course it does. That is what I have been trying to say. Both NTS and Local TS need to fulfil similar functions but for national and local problems, deal directly with consumers, publish what they are doing, investigating, listing non-compliant products and businesses……. I do not want to have a third party in between who record no information and do not follow up complaints or reports.

“Please note: National Trading Standards cannot help members of the public with specific complaints or advice about goods, services or specific businesses.”

This needs to change.

Yes it does – but to have any effect it needs to be staffed. It is one of many organisations that is now so pitifully underresourced….

The lack of funding has been mentioned many times in Convos.

NTS claims a good return on investment for its work, though it is not clear if this includes the cost of staffing: https://www.nationaltradingstandards.uk/uploads/infographic%20digital%20.pdf

If rogue traders are bankrupted as a result of enforcement action I will not be upset, but until we have legislation it seems that there is little opportunity to take action against the marketplaces that provide a vehicle for sale of dangerous and counterfeit goods.

I started looking into one of the dangerous products mentioned in the news story linkthe Rong Kai Toys Dinosaur Century Tyrannosaurus Rex.

Rong Kai is not a real brand name.

A factory produces a boxed product that can be printed with any ‘brand’ you want:

Authorities might think they have removed a dangerous product from the market, but the rear of the box shows there are 12 dinosaurs in the series. When they are sold with multiple ‘brand’ names in multiple countries, there are probably thousands of individual products still for sale. I found associated ‘brand’ names Earsoon, Yier, Toysery, Arcady, Ciftoys, DeeXop, Velocity Toys, Einsgut, Hanmun, Wishtime.

This product is still available on ebay, Amazon and can be shipped from the USA. Claims of being manufactured to safety standards are likely to be false.

The only way to control these types of product is to insist they only have one brand name which should be the manufacturer.

Good comment, Alfa. Rong by name, wrong by nature.

This is sadly prolific in IP-cameras too. Ostensibly identical cameras with tens of different brand names differ only apparently by quality of software. I have to assume there are a handful of generic firmware configurations, depending on which boxes are ticked on a feature list menu at (bulk) purchase.

Edited to insert… could be that the middle men write their own software to the SDK sold with the base “white box” camera. Either way the principle concern applies [/edit]

It means that, with a very few exceptions, if one researches hard and buys one camera intending to test it out for a couple of months in situ (and at the same time explore it for back doors etc), if one finds a bargain with a clean bill of health, chances are it’s no longer available just two months later. I have been victim to that several times, pretty much having to start again with research for each of my cameras. I have now 15 I think in various places – includes at least 10 different models thanks to such fast turnover of models.

The recent Which? report on Shenzen highlighted this problem. There are manufacturers offering products to second parties who might customise them and on to third parties who sell them under a brand. It is the final “assembler” / “seller who has liability to the EU/UK retailer. The latter are the people who distribute many of these products and should be responsible for them, and for ensuring they are compliant. I’ll repeat that I believe severe penalties on any UK/EU distributor who passes on non-compliant/unsafe/dangerous products is a powerful way to put a stop to much of this activity and ensure distributors act more responsibly.

Malcolm, you are describing a different scenario involving exactly the same products. I found other dinosaurs with exactly the same markings, colourings, bumps, teeth, etc. but in different boxes, again with different brand names.

This one by DeeXop fulfilled by Amazon UK says:
Kind Notice:
1. DeeXop Online is the only legal owner of DeeXop.DeeXop takes full responsibility of all the DeeXop products.
2 .Please kindly check the name of seller store in case of buying fake and shoddy product.
3 .DeeXop offers best customer service for all the DeeXop products which are built with the highest quality standards and we stand behind for best after service.
Safety Warning NO
Safety Material: ABS Plastic

Funny thing is…If you look at the video, the box is labelled Rong Kai !!!

This one by Yier in a repackaged box with much of the writing the same sold and fulfilled by Amazon Warehouse UK in a used condition says:
Security Material for kids-Pass the toy CPSIA and ASTM F963-11 test by SGS

Yeah, right.

I noticed that the DeeXop-class T.Rex is described as “Educational, help your kid’s develop brain”. Really?

The Yier-class creature can, apparently, walk “with awesome dinosaur noises”. They must have discovered some prehistoric recordings.

How did we grow up without such rubbish toys?

I don’t think real dinosaurs used three AA cells, John. What do you expect?

Perhaps it is (was) an AArdonyx?

What a good subspecies a Teslasaurus would have made…

Don’t stand in its way when it charges. 🙂

Back in the ’50s / ’60s Hong Kong seemed to be the butt of most jokes about shoddy goods. “Made in Hong Kong” was a regular punch line.

“Empire made” was another unfavourable description.

I have just had another look at the report From Shenzhen to Sheffield: the journey of fake reviews mentioned by malcolm above.

The answer is simple really . . . make it illegal to sell white label products in the UK.

We buy products from reputable brands that are made in China all the time. Many hidden parts inside products will originate in China. Not everything that is made in China is bad.

You might remember my comments on Air Fryers with a long list of made-up ‘brand names’. Then there the toxic toys. These types of white label products could be extremely dangerous and should not be permitted to be sold in the UK.

This means every product must have accountability. Each product must only one brand name preferably of the manufacturer and traceability (much like meat?) Manufacturers need to have representation in the UK with contacts, customer help, software updates (for products like Roger’s IP-Cameras above) and spare parts.

Having seen several TV programmes on China recently, my perception of them is changing. Although far too much of it is still going on, they have gone from copying and reproducing tat, to producing quality innovations.

Online marketplaces are still full of the tat but what we want are the quality innovations, products that can be tested by Which? and good enough to be listed on John Lewis.

I very much support having a UK representative for all products sold in the UK. We don’t need hundreds of branded/unbranded phone chargers, for example, but we need a selection of ones that are safe.

Many of the traders selling on eBay and possibly other marketplaces are selling in the UK and addresses shown are in the far east.

Maybe it is the retailer who should be responsible. They are the ones that should sort the tat and dangerous from the bargain and well made product. We know John Lewis as a long standing firm with a long back history in retailing. We should be absolutely certain that anything bought from or through them is a quality item, fit for purpose. A “trusted retailer” needs to show that their quality control is beyond reproach. Perhaps we need a list of those who can show this is true. I have yet to leave Boots with a sub-standard product, M&S don’t sell rubbish, even if they don’t get the stock that we want to buy. B&Q, Screwfix and Tool Station have the confidence of the trade what ever other shortcomings they may have. Television shopping channels may be strident, but they don’t sell dangerous items. The worry with them is that they flog second rate items that don’t perform all that well. That’s a different problem. Amazon and E.Bay are cavalier but their convenience means that they get away with it. They delegate quality control to their vast empire of retailers and thus remove the checks made by shops with a reputation to keep. Caveat emptor here.

Yes, the retailer should be responsible, but if they are located in Shenzhen there is little hope of getting redress if a product is not satisfactory, whatever fine words they put on their listing. Even stuff supplied from a UK address might just be imported, labelled and despatched from a lock-up with no known proprietorship. It would be interesting to know what checks Amazon and the others make on the credentials of companies trading in their marketplace. A physical and substantial presence means a lot to me but for many people the lowest price is the over-riding objective.

There is a current case in another Conversation about the glass door having exploded on a new Beko washing machine. While in that case AO is the retailer, it is worth noting that sometimes they are merely the fulfilment and delivery organisation on behalf of other companies and this is not necessarily disclosed until the goods are shipped or on the point of delivery. Life is getting very complicated.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-response-to-panoramas-investigation-into-suspect-child-car-seats-found-for-sale-on-amazon/

I’ll have to watch this on iPlayer as I’m out enjoying myself tonight, but here, seemingly, is yet another example of amazon putting lives at risk – in this case childrens’ – despite previous history. Whether or not they operate the market place in a legal way is immaterial if the results are, as we have seen many times, dangerous to consumers. To say they are “irresponsible” in continuing to host a market place that can be so damaging to consumers is an understatement – well, that’s my view.

We only see the unsafe, non-compliant and dangerous products that are uncovered. We do not know how many have been sold to unsuspecting customers before their exposure. Nor do we know how many other unsafe products have been sold that are not uncovered.

This seems one of the most important consumer issues to deal with, particularly when children are put at risk. It is frustrating that no action can be taken, and that amazon appear to go into denial. What kind of people administer this company?

Which? are pressing for legislation; I believe the EU are looking to clamp down on this malpractice and hope the UK will mirror that. I also believe there is a private members bill going through Parliament. Hopefully this will be successful without being watered down by commercial lobbying.

But it will all take time. Should the press be shaming amazon in the meantime into taking effective voluntary action? Or am I, perhaps, getting this problem out of proportion?

I did watch this and there was very little about market place deficiencies. The bulk of the programme was about how good amazon are about collecting data on their customers, through their purchasing, product views, visits to non-amazon websites, potentially conversations heard by Alexa as well as direct interaction with it.

I think collecting information directly down to customers buying and viewing habits on their site and tailoring those “you might also like” pop ups, is fair for a retailer wanting to get as many sales as possible. Collecting data in other ways is not fair. The worry is that collecting this “fair” data might well be OK now to “enhance the buying experience” but that data could be put to much more sinister use.

I’d suggest follow the advice of one of the ex-amazon big-wigs – turn off Alexa when you do not want your private conversations “overheard” and stored somewhere.

@ddalton, I hope Which? keep us up to date with the progress of possible legislation aimed at controlling market place responsibilities.

A Which? press release:

“Two-thirds of the 250 products tested from Amazon Marketplace, AliExpress, eBay and Wish fail safety tests” https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/two-thirds-of-the-250-products-tested-from-amazon-marketplace-aliexpress-ebay-and-wish-fail-safety-tests/

It’s good to see that Which? is working with other European consumer organisations or at least has their support.

It is very sad to read the responses from Amazon, AliExpress, eBay and Wish that trot out statements that they take safety seriously.

I do hope that Which? will take these problems to TV and help make citizens of this country aware that buying cheap products from online marketplaces may not be a good idea.

Maybe we could have a response from the consumer minister, but has anyone been given this role?

If two-thirds of 250 products selected for testing failed, just think how many more there are still for sale.

I am curious why binoculars failed safety tests and can only think of them not coming with a safety warning to not look at the sun through them.

I noticed Christmas lights were tested. Also needing testing are the plugs/adaptors/transformers for pre-lit Christmas trees. Ours came from a local garden centre, but it got so hot it felt dangerous so we stopped using it. The garden centre said they all got hot, felt the ones on show that were also very hot and dismissed our concerns. We replaced it with one that now just gets warm.

The ‘consumer minister’ needs to put a stop to made-up brand names on products especially electricals and toys. Looking at the list of government ministers, it looks like Amanda Milling MP needs a role.

I don’t think there is a consumer affairs minister yet in place at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. There are a few without designated responsibilities so perhaps there will be one for Monday’s work, another for Tuesday’s, and so on.

Whoever is given the role will have it added to a long list of other responsibilities and may have little prior knowledge of the subject. I presume that government ministers rely heavily on advisors and their own role is to communicate information. I wrote to one of the previous ‘consumer ministers’ and the response I received (from their office) showed a very limited understanding of the need to make consumers aware of recalls.

Sorry if I missed it but one thing I haven’t seen mentioned yet is CE marking. Did all these dodgy goods bear a CE mark? I expect they did. A CE is supposed to mean that a product meets standards but as it’s self-certified is useless and always has been.

I agree, Phil. The absence of a CE mark on a product that should have one is evidence that a product is being sold illegally, but the presence of a CE mark cannot be used as an indication of product safety.

Which? has been investigating marketplaces for some time and this article was published last September: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/09/killer-chargers-travel-adaptors-and-power-banks-rife-on-online-marketplaces/ This does not mention whether the products in question were CE marked.

@gmartin – Hi George – Would you be able to find out how many of the dangerous products that Which? found on the marketplaces had a CE mark?

From the Wiki article on CE marking:-

” CE marking is sometimes affixed to products that do not fulfill the legal requirements and conditions, or it is affixed to products for which it is not required. In one case it was reported that “Chinese manufacturers were submitting well-engineered electrical products to obtain conformity testing reports, but then removing non-essential components in production to reduce costs”.[18] A test of 27 electrical chargers found that all the eight legitimately branded ones with a reputable name met safety standards, but none of those unbranded or with minor names did, despite bearing the CЄ mark;[18] non-compliant devices were actually potentially unreliable and dangerous, presenting electrical and fire hazards. ”

The source was a 2008 report by Buckinghamshire Trading Standards.

CE marking is appropriate when used by reputable companies. It has to be backed up with extensive documentation and testing that must be made available to the regulators.

The problem arises because retailers may deal with disreputable companies and /or not bother to verify the credentials of the CE mark.These same disreputable companies can illegally apply safety marks, forge documentation, have products independently tested but supply different ones……Fraud knows no bounds.

Supplying a regulated product in the EU without a CE mark is illegal. The problem is that market places, like amazon, apparently have no legal responsibility for what they handle on behalf of their traders. That needs to change (I believe EU legislation is in the making) and then amazon et al can be penalised. That they currently take no “informal” responsibility – other than delisting products when forced – is a disgrace and something any responsible organisation should be ashamed of.

This does not surprise me, Phil. I suspect it is more common just to print CE marks on goods that have no chance of complying with the relevant standards.

I would support a ban on the sale of unbranded electrical goods and our regular contributor Alfa has been pushing for this for years.

Most consumers don’t appreciate the risk of dodgy electrical goods. A phone charger lacking an internal fuse or other protective device will work fine until there is a fault, and then you could have a fire.

I would like to see imported electrical products tested in the UK before they can be sold on online marketplaces. There is still the danger that the manufacturer or importer could switch from providing safe products to non-compliant ones, as you have mentioned.

Someone posted recently about Argos having a long list of products with safety problems. Argos and other responsible companies have a link to this list on their website homepage. Amazon and eBay certainly don’t do this.

Some of us have had long discussions about how consumers are made aware that they have a recalled product without a requirement for product registration. Anyone who buys online will have supplied contact details, but how many people are contacted about recalls?

Any regulated product distributed commercially in the UK (as opposed to a private import) is required to comply with appropriate UK/EU safety requirements, of course. If a distributor is found to distribute, or assist in the distribution of, non-compliant products then they should be penalised to an extent that makes the practice not worthwhile.

I believe until we bring all distributors, including marketplaces, into that regime and impose penalties we will not make progress. amazon clearly have no interest in self-regulating.

What this also requires is an effective “policing” authority to examine the market place, respond to complaints, test and penalise. This should be, currently, Trading Standards, our legally nominated market surveillance authority. It could be financed, at least in part, through either the penalties charged or by charging for its services when a contravention is proven.

We need properly funded action to protect consumers.

What is the benefit of having a CE mark on, for example, a phone charger, Malcolm? It’s obligatory to comply with relevant standards to offer the product for sale in the UK. We can generally rely on well known brands and having a CE mark is going to make no difference. On the other hand the dodgy companies will just print the CE mark illegally.

Manufacturers can make products to whatever design they like, incorporating whatever level of safety they choose. However, the EU requires that many products comply with safety standards – generally issued as Euronorms – and only if they comply with such standards can they be given the CE Mark, claiming compliance, and legally sold in the EU (and, currently, UK).

However, other countries around the world may regulate products to different standards or not regulate to safety standards at all. The CE Mark is irrelevant to them.

Not all companies are well known to consumers – they may be new to the market, established in other countries but not well known here, and many consumers may simply not recognise what some regard as well-known brands (to them) and may well not be “dodgy”.

The CE Mark system is designed to demonstrate a claim of compliance, is backed by a technical construction file containing relevant design detail, test results etc. that is open for inspection, and allows the authorities to remove products found not to be compliant and to exact penalties upon transgressors.

Companies that use the CE Mark illegally will always find ways to cheat the system, some as I gave earlier. Consumers have the problem that such products are distributed by the likes of amazon without checks, and this must be stopped. We are, unfortunately, prone to buy on price and that simply encourages this illegal trade.

I think amazon – and others – should be instructed to attach a warning on any product sold through their marketplace that “this product has not been checked that it meets UK safety requirements and amazon cannot say that it presents no possibility of harm to the purchaser”. That might put of 10% if customers…. 🙁

This is of little help to the UK consumer, who may wrongly assume that the presence of a CE mark can be relied on to indicated if a product is safe.

I am strongly against your suggestion that Amazon and others should be allowed to use a disclaimer as you suggest in your final paragraph.

The UK consumer should simply expect products to be safe. The CE Mark is relevant to the UK/EU authorities whose job is to ensure only safe products with appropriate credential get onto the market. It is the lack of proper policing and enforcement to protect consumers that allows malpractice to continue. That needs dealing with otherwise we will never make progress.

In the absence of action to make amazon legally responsible for their marketplace (hopefully not for much longer) I would have thought a warning to potential customers is better than nothing – just as a warning is attached to Hotpoint/Indesit/Whirlpool products (which you also referenced).

@ddalton, Daniel, can Which? update us here about what new legislation is being proposed in the EU (and UK) to make online market place hosts responsible for the products they help onto the market?

We can certainly agree on the need to ensure that products are safe. Thanks to the vast increase number and diversity of products being imported I can see no chance of Trading Standards and OPSS ensuring that this happens, even if funded properly. Although TS has had success in seizing dangerous and counterfeit imports, I very much doubt that this approach would prevent these products being offered for sale.

My view remains that imported products should be tested in the UK. Exemptions could be allowed for well established companies that can provide satisfactory documentation as evidence that they are taking responsibility for what they import.

The problem we have discussed before is the vast number of products that would need testing, the resources necessary to do that (I doubt we have anything like enough laboratories), how long the necessary testing takes, what happens to the (large) imported batch while the lengthy test is in a queue ….and so on. And then, you have to repeat on the next batch, because a cheating manufacturer will not supply consistent good. and do you have all importers do this for the same products? And how do you choose the exempted companies?

I see it as wholly impractical. If we properly fund our market surveilance and, more important, severely penalise distributors of non-compliant products, much of the problem should go away. Why would an importer recklessly import a dangerous product – knowingly or unknowingly – when they face substantial sanctions?. It would not be worth their while.

The costs would have to be met by business and a requirement for UK testing would greatly reduce the variety of phone chargers and other products on sale. Just how many different chargers do our marketplaces need to stock?

You are right that a cheating manufacturer could switch to supplying unsafe products, as pointed out by Phil above. Is there evidence that this is a common problem?

I see your suggestion as very unlikely to be effective. Why are importers bringing dangerous products into the country when legislation to protect consumers already exists.

I would like reassurance that electrical goods sold by conventional retailers, both in shops and online, are as safe as I hope they are.

“Why are importers bringing dangerous products into the country when legislation to protect consumers already exists.” . Because legislation is only effective if it is enforced. I’d rather see us (business) properly fund an effective policing system that imposes sanctions.

We’d still need a policing system to check the authenticity of the millions of tests that would need to be (regularly – each batch) carried out before they could be released.

I prefer to develop a system where the sellers, already responsible in law for what they sell, become responsible players. Severe penalties should ensure being irresponsible is not worth their while.

We must also keep this in perspective. From what I see, most sellers do behave responsibly. It is the few that do not that need dealing with. And major players are those who provide unregulated access to the UK market via their marketplaces – outfits like eBay and amazon. “66% of products tested from online marketplaces AliExpress, Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Wish failed safety tests“.
They need bringing under control. I believe much of the problem would then disappear.

Thanks to recent information from Which? we know that the marketplaces are not responsible for ensuring that their traders sell safe goods. It would have been good if this had been made clear at the outset of the discussions about goods being sold with non-UK plugs, rather than years later.

I do hope that Which? will push our present government to take action to make the marketplaces responsible for ensuring that their traders stop selling dangerous goods. I am not optimistic that there will be a prompt solution.

There is now a Which? article related to the press release about dangerous products sold on marketplaces: https://www.which.co.uk/news/

Which? rightly has a Brand Alert about Hotpoint and Indesit appliances because of the poor handling of the recalls of fire risk dryers and washing machines by their manufacturer, Whirlpool. Is Which? going to do the same for the online marketplaces?