/ 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

Dyson warns of fake products on online marketplaces: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/08/dyson-warns-of-fake-products-on-online-marketplaces/ – Which?

Maybe counterfeit versions of expensive hairdryers might help convince the Office of Public Safety and Standards or even our government that action is needed to make online marketplaces responsible for the products they sell. I am not aware of action following the efforts by Which? to investigate and report on dangerous and counterfeit goods on sale on online marketplaces.

@ddalton Hi Daniel – Would you be able to give us an update, please?

If only Which? would regularly respond to relevant questions asked. I have lost count of queries that have been effectively ignored. https://conversation.which.co.uk/shopping/fake-ray-bans-scarves-online-shopping-orders/#comment-1603942 for example. Recent issues include Whirlpool refunds, full recalls, topical and important issues.

“We uncovered a killer car seat, fake headphones and a fake smartphone for sale

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/08/fake-illegal-and-dangerous-products-sold-on-wish-com/ – Which?

Yet another example of consumers being threatened by an online market place. How many products did Which? not buy that are also fake, unsafe or dangerous?

It is not enough to just report these incidents. When is something going to be done to protect consumers? What are Which? doing to look after consumers interests, 660 000 of whom pay Which? to do so? I have asked them a number of times to tell us and to report what legislation might be under consideration here and in the EU. There has been no response. So is it of no interest to the consumer champion?

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, are Which? prepared to say something about this, Jon?

I think if Which? were to be rated in the same way as the products it reviews it would get a score of around 30%, be described as poor value for money, and labelled as a Don’t Buy.

The way I feel at the moment over the lowering of my broadband speed because Which? put sticking plasters over end results instead of tackling the roots of problems and do not consider the consequences of their actions that the rest of us have to pay for? 30% is far too generous.

The consequences that some foresaw were pointed out to Which? at the time, but ignored. The same happened with unwarranted overdraft charges; now everyone, including the majority who are responsible, pay up to nearly 40%. Alternatives to ATMs are ignored in the quest to win a particular campaign. This is rather like government behaviour, except there are no u-turns when reason should prevail.

Similar thing with Amazon reviews. The sellers found an effective way around the constraints Amazon applied, and it’s now worse than ever.

@ddalton, thanks Daniel. Elsewhere I referred to EU legislation being considered which seemed aimed at placing market place responsibility on the site owner, like Amazon. I think this is also being considered in the USA. Are Which? aware of this?

Interesting, Alfa. Are you telling us that Which? has directly managed to degrade your broadband or is it just their lack of clout that has let others do this to you?
My apologies, I have just read the saga on another page and should have seen that before writing here. …in sympathy…. V.

Exactly that Vynor.

The speed your line is capable of getting is now irrelevant and ignored and they quote a minimum speed at you way below what you are able to get. If you get above that minimum speed, they say there is no problem.

I will continue this here in a while as it is off-topic here.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichstatements/which-responds-to-british-toy-and-hobby-association-report-on-unsafe-toys/
Sue Davies, Head of Consumer Protection at Which?, said:

““Which? has repeatedly exposed products, including baby sleeping bags, chargers and Christmas tree lights, that have been poorly made and appear to be sold without any safety checks or monitoring on online marketplaces.”………

I can’t access the report as it seems to be only available to BTHA members but I presume it warns about a plethora of unsafe toys, that will endanger our children, on sale on marketplaces hosted by, among others, Amazon and ebay.

We have, for years, seen press releases warning of the dangers of online market places. Who are they supposed to prompt into action? Where have they got us? Nowhere, seemingly. Is it not time to revise the strategy? We could require, as a start perhaps, that any seller on a marketplace has a warning attached that the host cannot vouch for, nor take responsibility for, the safety or authenticity of the products on offer.

Amazon are one of the main beneficiaries of online market places and yet take no responsibility for them. allowing unsafe and dangerous products into our homes. At the same time Which? promote (Which? News for many days now) their Prime Day and the “deals”. Why are Which? advertising Amazon? Why do they get money from Amazon when someone links to a purchase? Is this the way to change an irresponsible retailer?

I fully agree with you, Malcolm.

Your questions deserve a high-level response from Which?.

Not sure if I count as “high level” but I can respond to a few of the points you’ve raised here @malcolm-r.

Put simply Prime Day is a big moment for a lot of consumers who will be looking for a deal, and why Which? will cover what deals are to be found is to help people make the best possible choices should they choose to shop in the sale. This is not an advertisement for Amazon, instead resources to help people find out whether prices are lower elsewhere (as they often are), or indeed whether products we don’t recommend are on sale.

I think we’ve discussed the affiliate scheme before (if not, all the detail is here: https://www.which.co.uk/help/all-help/5200/which-affiliate-activity). This serves our non-profit mission, and doesn’t compromise the integrity or independence of our reviews or recommendations, nor does it bar us from raising awareness of dangers to consumers, be it from unsafe products, fake reviews, or other scams that may involve any particular retailer.

I’d disagree on your point on the effectiveness of flagging up dangerous products on sale in online marketplaces though, as raising awareness does prevent people from purchasing them, and prompts retailers to remove the products from their stores (here’s an example of where this happened back in February). We agree that there’s a lot more to be done to make online marketplaces a lot safer, however to say what has been done so far has gotten us nowhere doesn’t accurately tell the story.

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, I think you are up in the levels, Jon.
“This is not an advertisement for Amazon, instead resources to help people find out whether prices are lower elsewhere (as they often are), or indeed whether products we don’t recommend are on sale.“. I’m not sure I follow this. Which? News does effectively advertise Amazon Prime. If someone wants a product they can check out Which? Best Buys and look on the internet. Why do they need pointing towards Amazon?

“we’ve discussed the affiliate scheme before “. Like Which? Mortgage providers saying their employees took no commission – Which? did though – it is hard to accept that removing a revenue stream would not be a consideration for Which? . Of course I have to accept it does not affect your criticism of Amazon. But no legal action seems to have been taken over illegal 2 pin plugs, for example.

“flagging up dangerous products on sale in online“. Yes, I do credit Which? with doing this. But it is too little too late (not Which?’s fault). The products flagged are already in people homes, with their children, and causing harm. And how about all the products that are not discovered and continue to be sold and expose consumers to danger? By simply flagging up that “marketplace” and “fulfilled by” (?) sources of products do not have any guarantee of authenticity would surely help prospective purchasers of “sensitive” products that they need to think hard before they buy.

Amazon Prime Day date announced: 12 things to know before you buy

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/09/amazon-prime-day-date-announced-12-things-to-know-before-you-buy/ – Which?

This promotion of Amazon Prime Day has occupied the most prominent spot on Which? News for a couple of weeks now. Why?

Will Which? run a similar prominent news headline for a couple of weeks or so when even more dangerous marketplace products are exposed, or when they sell more products with illegal 2-pin plugs?

A couple of weeks ago, hubby managed to succumb to the Amazon Prime scam – the one where you sign up for a free trial. Funny thing is, he didn’t even buy anything, just stuck a few bits in his basket before exiting and doesn’t know how it could have happened. Ah well, it gives us a chance to binge watch a couple of sci-fi series we wanted to see.

That meant I got a look at Amazon Prime Day. There was hardly a genuine brand name in the products for sale. There was the usual heavily discounted overpriced Braun electric toothbrush but apart from that, they were mainly electrical and battery operated products with fake brand names – a recipe for danger.

Which? should be advising people to avoid Amazon Prime Day.

He should be ashamed of himself for not reading all your advice on Convo, Alfa. 🙂

I admit to signing-up for Prime too, but at least it was easy to cancel before I was charged.

Ha ha 🙃

At the end of the trial month, you start paying £7.99 which we would be happy to do for maybe just 3 months.

However, the wording of the T&Cs is misleading I believe. It says:
Your membership has a monthly duration and will be extended automatically for £7.99/month. If you don’t want your membership to extend automatically, you may change this in Your Account at any time by selecting “end membership” and you won’t be charged for the next membership period. You can always request a refund of your most recent membership fee if neither you not anyone authorised by you to use your account has taken advantage of any Prime benefits in that membership period.

At first glance it looks like you can pay monthly and just leave when you want. But I have read elsewhere that once a member you join initially for a whole year.

Perhaps someone can clarify this.

Amozon Prime in Australia is only $6.99

I expect it will come with the wrong plug.

Which? have been plugging Amazon Prime every day in their online news for a couple of weeks now. It is the most prominent”news” item, occupying four times the space of any other proper news item.
Is it really that newsworthy? No.
Are there other reasons why it has such a high profile?

Well, in terms of consumer-centric service, it’s very hard to beat. As an example I’ve been working on my G4 Mac, replacing two internal DVD drives as both had lost the ability to open, and sorting out a new, Blu Ray writer drive, which I wanted to run through USB 3.

I was able to order the new drives and adaptors and know with certainty they’d be delivered the following day. When one adaptor proved not to work returning it was simplicity itself, with Prime arranging a Hermes pick up from the house.

Prime meets a need: it delivers fast, is exceptionally reliable, refunds without question and leaves the alternatives floundering. I would expect Which? to promote such a valuable consumer-centred organisation, just as I would expect it to challenge any failings.

That may be, but we have had many complaints about sneaky sign-up tactics to Prime, famously about supplying illegal 2-pin plugs and, of course, what some ( many perhaps) would see as its irresponsible attitude towards its market place and the dangers that poses to consumers.

It is not all bad, bud does it need such promotion by Which? (and the associated affiliation revenue that it can generate for them – but I don’t suppose that is a consideration).

Many people are well aware of Amazon, are capable of searching the net for best-priced buys (and, hopefully, best buys if they are Which? subscribers), so perhaps just one reminder of Prime day might be appropriate. There is one bit of news about bargains at John Lewis and Partners; I wonder if that will be repeated daily?

As Prime Day seems to have finished – 5 days ago – why is it still being advertised in the “latest news from Which?” ?

I think your second and third points are one and the same, really; the two pin plug issue is inextricably linked to the market place vendors.

In terms of what you call the ‘sneaky sign up’ process, I’d say two things: cancelling is as easy as it could be, and you have a month in which to do so. But, secondly, can’t this ‘sneaky process’ (which I don’t believe is sneaky, in fact,) be compared with scamming? Your line has always been that people have to look out for themselves, so can not the same argument be levelled at the Prime sign up process?

”I think your second and third points are one and the same, really; the two pin plug issue is inextricably linked to the market place vendors.”
Alfa’s experience suggests otherwise.

Last week, I used my Amazon account for the first time in years.

The default delivery option offered free rapid delivery and started a Prime subscription. I’d say that counts as sneaky.

I managed to reject that option, in favour of normal free delivery.

In the event, the item came as quickly as the promised rapid delivery, days before the predicted date. This was actually quite annoying, because I had made other plans and was not at home to receive the item.

That is my big bugbear with Amazon – They cannot give you a date and stick to it. They seem desperate to send things out early which usually causes inconvenience as I like to timetable deliveries from different sources to a particular day in each week. It generally works for everyone except Amazon.

I also think the way users are drawn into a Prime subscription is sneaky. I agree it is not difficult to cancel it but it took some finding when I first got hooked.

I agree that the Prime subscription, but at least it is easy to cancel as Ian has said. Most retailers have deficiencies and we have given plenty of publicity to those of Currys on Which? Convo. I remember Which? reporting an undercover investigation that found that John Lewis were worse than Currys when staff knowledge of consumer rights.

The inability of Amazon to deliver when it said it would at the time of purchase is the main reason that took my custom elsewhere. Nowadays I buy one or perhaps two items per year, but friends have told me that goods are still arriving before the scheduled date. Sadly, it looks as if some other companies think it is clever to deliver a day or more before the scheduled date.

I have little doubt that Which? will have reported the potentially dangerous goods sold on the Amazon and other online marketplaces each time they have found a problem. It is our government and their agents that is responsible for dealing with this issue.

I’d suggest when the correct regulations are in place it is the responsibility of the retailer to abide by the. The government’s agencies’ job is the catch and penalise the perpetrators.

My concern is that Amazon do not seem to attempt to take any responsibility for preventing dangerous products being put onto the market, assisted by them. Only when it is too late – when they are in the hands of consumers – and a third party discovers some of them, are they forced into action.

I have had a wonderful year with Amazon . . .

I know Covid disrupted deliveries, but an in-stock monitor ordered April 5th took 6 weeks to deliver and was sourced from Italy. It was an illegal product as it did not come with a UK plug.

The replacement monitor again came from Italy and was another illegal product without a UK plug.

Amazon would not sort this out. I could buy the necessary lead and they would reimburse me. The first person looked up a cheap lead on Amazon but there was no way I was using that with my new monitor. I went directly to LG who luckily supplied one for free.

We had many online chats with Amazon trying to get the illegal monitor returned. We were expected to take it somewhere, or needed a printer before it could be collected.

The monitor I was using got quite hot at the bottom, went pop and stopped working, so now we had a broken monitor to return.

Every time you chat to someone at Amazon, you get someone with different ideas or suggestions. Eventually, someone arranged for it to be collected on 8th September.

Amazon then charged us for the returned monitor and we had to contact them yet again for a refund.

Amazon created this problem and should have sorted it out for us. Amazon will send, sometimes collect or reimburse, but they will not go out of their way to sort out problems for customers. The customer has to do all the work which is wrong.

I do not call that good customer service.

Next, we have hubby wondering how he managed to sign up to Amazon Prime when he didn’t even buy anything, so yes however they got him to do it was definitely sneaky. He thinks it was probably when he checked the cost of postage.

Amazon state After your free trial, Amazon Prime is just £7.99/month. Cancel anytime. Somewhere I have seen you sign up for a year, so can you really continue for a couple of months then cancel and not pay any more?

The products in his Amazon shopping basket now qualified for free delivery, so he bought them and they took 2 and 3 days to arrive, so much for next day delivery.

But then you look at all the rubbish being sold on Amazon. Here are Today’s Lightning Deals. Do you see any brand names you recognise or are they all fake?

I picked a car charger.

edited . . .
The above link no longer works as it has been replaced by a different but very similar looking product. Try this link

It is sold by Outerman-UK and fulfilled by Amazon. A look at the fake seller name whose real name is: shenzhenshi runliu dianzishangwu youxiangongsi – one of the many Chinese traders who spend less than a year on Amazon before changing their name thus avoiding taxes.

An identical looking charger can be bought cheaper on ebay and they haven’t even bothered with a brand name. Those thin leads are not suitable for charging a truck.

How safe are these chargers?

Sorry Ian, but I really don’t get why you think Amazon is so wonderful.

Our existing system for monitoring the handling of non-compliant and dangerous goods was set up before the internet arrived and it was possible for anyone to sell goods via online marketplaces. The present system is unfit for its purpose, as demonstrated by the fact that Which? has found dangerous goods on sale on major online marketplaces. Is there any evidence that catching and penalising those involved will not simply make way for other offenders.

We need new legislation if progress is to be made and that is the responsibility of the government.

Which is what I have suggested. I have asked Which? a number if times to explain what is being done to revise legislation, and what the EU are doing (I sent them a link). No response (so far).

There may well be other offenders but Amazon and eBay are so big in this area that if they took responsible action themselves it would have a huge impact. Their market place business models do not work under present legislation with respect to fake, fraudulent, unsafe and dangerous goods and they have the power to change that. But, presumably, income is more important than lives.

If you recall, Which? did not tell us a great deal about the Consumer Rights Bill and the negotiations that resulted in the CRA in 2015. I presume that the remit of Which? is to report problems to those agencies that are supposed to deal with consumer issues. I presume you have stopped buying from Amazon, Malcolm.

Alfa – If you are looking for a battery charger I suggest buying directly from Ring Automotive in Leeds (nothing to do with Ring doorbells, etc) or from a well established seller such as Halfords. I’m involved with a charity that has a Ring charger with a similar specification to the ones you have shown and it has been in frequent use for several years. That was bought to replace a cheap charger that was bought online and failed promptly. I have a Ring RSC 612 charger that I use regularly to maintain several batteries. Clarke is another well established brand of chargers, available directly or from Machine Mart and other retailers.

Alfa said “Sorry Ian, but I really don’t get why you think Amazon is so wonderful.”.

I suspect we’ve both had extremely different experiences with them, Alfa. I’m the first to complain when things go badly, and especially when customer service is lacking. My better half’s the same, and yet we continue to experience nothing but the very best with Amazon and are constantly astonished at just how good they are.

Refunds are given without question, returns authorised immediately without any charge, errors (on their part) corrected, collected and replaced and even a somewhat embarrassing situation where I suspect I was inadvertently ordering videos on Prime cancelled and refunded.

I wonder if we’re simply cagier? We maintain a list of names for electronic goods which we know and trust and will never risk buying an unknown brand. Chinese companies in particular seem to try to flog the same item under numerous aliases. I imagine Malcolm would say that’s the responsibility of the purchaser, to avoid being scammed.

Thanks wavechange, we already have a Ring RSC516 battery charger that has given us a good few years of service now. We had one burn out that was probably bought in the early days of car ownership from an auto shop when batteries were much less powerful, so I know the one above will not work safely on a truck. We also have a Ring Air Compressor.

The battery charger above was just a random product I picked from the Lightning Deals to highlight the potentially unsafe rubbish that is sold on Amazon.

Ian, we also buy brands we know and trust, but judging by the speed many of the Amazon deals get used up, far too many people are buying these fake brands and possibly putting themselves or others at risk.

Last week a friend got her daughter to buy a gun-style thermometer online and she chose one from Amazon. Her daughter said it was a good one as it had 3000 reviews !!! I asked her the brand and it was a fake one, but she doesn’t use the internet so is oblivious to the pitfalls and it is unlikely her daughter would actually have read any of the reviews.

The LG monitor was sold by Amazon not a marketplace seller.

When people buy through Amazon I believe they trust them. It is not a question of a scam.

Agreed, but that’s how scammers operate, surely? We need to exercise caution in all aspects of our lives, and I would have thought that includes signing up to Prime or buying a product of which we have no previous knowledge. Fortunately, unlike scammers, Amazon is always happy to cancel your membership and refund any monies incurred in ordering items you no longer want.

If Amazon put a disclaimer against items from marketplace sellers warning potential customers that they took no responsibility for the authenticity or safety of the products offered I might be less concerned. But they avoid warning consumers. I can buy direct from an overseas supplier and then I do take full responsibility for what I buy.

https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/online-marketplace-regulation/#comment-1609707
Why should I have stopped buying from Amazon? I am careful what I buy, careful not to get accidentally signed up to Prime, I check prices to make sure I’m not overpaying.

Having condemned Amazon as much as you have, I wonder why you support it.

Edit: This is out of sequence but is a response to Malcolm’s response to my post.

Just what purpose would that serve? As I said in an earlier comment “it is not all bad”.
I would like to see the bad bits cleaned up.

@gmartin, George,https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/online-marketplace-regulation/#comment-1609644. Is this comment being moderated? If so, could you say why, please.

No, not that I can see. What’s making you think it is?

Yesterday on my devices the comment did not appear in Recent Activity and, on the Convo, had a statement underneath the comment in red beginning “your comment is awaiting moderation….” That, today, seems to have disappeared. A glitch?

Does anyone know what dropshipping or scalping is?

Has anyone heard these terms used when talking about internet selling and buying?

Has anyone heard about what happened last month to MSI graphics cards on eBay?

‘Dropshipping’ is a retail fulfilment method whereby a trader doesn’t keep the products it sells in stock. Instead, when a store sells a product using the dropshipping model, it purchases the item from a third party [manufacturer or wholesaler] and has it shipped directly to the customer. As a result, the seller doesn’t have to handle the product directly.

You can read more about it here –
https://www.shopify.co.uk/blog/what-is-dropshipping

One explanation of ‘scalping’ is here –
https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/scalping.asp

It relies on the internet to make the trades [buying and selling stocks] quickly and so that positions are opened and closed to optimise returns from fractional price movements within a few hours.

I am afraid I have no idea what happened last month to MSI graphics cards on e-Bay.

Note: This little dialogue is relevant to the overall topic but seems to have dropped into the middle of an unrelated thread so I am not sure where my reply is going to appear. The comment I am responding to to is from a at https://conversation.which.co.uk/money/online-marketplace-regulation/#comment-1609709

Thanks John

Go to Youtube and do a video search for How can you trust a brand when they do this to you? by Jayztwocents

It’s a 20 minute video

malcolm r says:
20 October 2020

”I think your second and third points are one and the same, really; the two pin plug issue is inextricably linked to the market place vendors.
Alfa’s experience suggests otherwise.

And perhaps Alfa has simply been extremely unfortunate. As I’ve said, neither I nor my better half have ever experienced anything but the very best from Amazon. But even the best companies will have the occasional misstep.

malcolm r says: 19 October 2020

If Amazon put a disclaimer against items from marketplace sellers warning potential customers that they took no responsibility for the authenticity or safety of the products offered I might be less concerned.

They do. Before you check out they provide links to just about everything you could want. Directly beneath the ‘Buy Now’ button. One of those links explains in excruciating detail about market place sellers.

Maybe that is a bit late for most people to take notice?

I’ve had thought that was the ultimate location to have it. It’s the only place where everyone who’s buying anything has to visit.

I have to agree with Ian on this occasion as I have always received excellent service from Amazon. It has been a virtual life saver for me during the lockdown period with fast and efficient deliveries and replacements sent without charge or question on the very few occasions it has been necessary. I have never received an appliance with a 2 pin plug and never received something that I have not ordered.

My only criticism of them is; I think every item listed on their website should display the country if origin so that consumers can have cheaper and faster access to defective returnable goods.

From Electrical Safety First:

“In the last year, over 4 million UK shoppers bought a fake electrical product and a quarter of these were purchased from an online marketplace.

Did you know that when you buy from an online marketplace, you are buying from an unregulated third party seller? This lack of regulation means that it is easy for counterfeit and sub-standard products to be sold.” https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/check-it-out/

There is a link to download a browser extension that is compatible with Amazon and eBay. “The Check It Out browser extension will remind you when you are not buying directly from the manufacturer or a retailer you know and trust.” At the moment it is for Chrome and Safari browsers.

Maybe the marketplace owners should use the browser extension to help them decide which products not to host.

The marketplace owners have clearly no interest in preventing fake, unsafe and dangerous products from reaching consumers with their assistance. Otherwise they would have taken action by now. What is inexplicable is that, given the regulation and penalties that apply to all retailers that this loophole has not been closed. Is that down to the EU and can we adopt our own approach after Brexit?

Any one of us can personally import any product for our own use from anywhere in the world and it is unlikely to be intercepted. This is unlikely to change. The difference with Amazon, ebay, and similar hosts is that their marketplaces publicise these products, in many cases assist in their distribution, make money from this trade, but crucially allow large quantities of damaging products into our homes.

I hope it is within Which?’s scope to do more than simply report the problem and ask for those products that might be discovered, too late, to be delisted (usually to reappear it seems).

We need new legislation to ensure that marketplaces are responsible for what their traders offer for sale. Brexit is irrelevant because we need to work with the EU and hopefully other countries to deal with these problems.

The current systems for ensuring product safety is no longer fit for purpose except for larger companies that have the resources to comply with the relevant safety regulations. It was developed before the days before goods were sold online by many thousands of small companies and even individuals trading on eBay. How can a small trader possibly carry out checks to ensure that they products they are selling comply with safety and other requirements? The only practical solution I can envisage would be to buy from importers are able to monitor their supply chain or will have products tested in the UK.

The criticism of Amazon seems to focus on dodgy goods sold via marketplace traders rather than when Amazon is the seller. Amazon also sells many products (for example discontinued ones) on behalf of companies that do behave responsibly. Perhaps the future is for Amazon to focus on these operations.

We cannot prevent people from independently buying online from any trader anywhere in the world. I do not see how we can use regulations to deal with that.

However many people buy quite safely online from reputable companies who are EU based and subject to regulation. The problem with Amazon et al is they provide easy access and a buying route to an unregulated collection of traders and thus expose these sources to us all. If this practice were stopped then most of the problem would be resolved. The easy way, it seems to me, is to make Amazon etc responsible for everything they promote.

” How can a small trader possibly carry out checks to ensure that (the) products they are selling comply with safety and other requirements? ” A small trader should not be selling products if they are not in a position to know or verify their compliance. It is illegal. Being small is no excuse for avoiding regulations
”The only practical solution I can envisage would be to buy from importers (who) are able to monitor their supply chain or will have products tested in the UK.”. Well, exactly the point I have been making. Distributors in the EU are obliged by law to ensure certain products comply with regulations. They can be prosecuted if they fail. This is where regulations work to protect us.

The current system is unfit for purpose, as I said. To rely on prosecution to deal with small traders selling dodgy goods would introduce delays, so dangerous goods could be on sale for months or longer before the problem is discovered and legal action is taken. When the owners of online marketplaces can be prosecuted for allowing their traders to sell dangerous and non-compliant goods then we might get somewhere.

As you have pointed out, anyone can import goods from dodgy sources as long as they pay the duty. This provides a route for buying dangerous goods for personal use or selling them online or elsewhere.

As you believe the present system is “not fit for purpose” just what do you propose instead? Whilst we cannot prevent individual imports we can make all traders within our legislation subject to deterrent penalties. That includes those who are irresponsible in the way the promote those out of our legislative reach and put us at risk – like amazon.

We should be looking for constructive ways to deal with this. Suggestions from the consumer champion would be welcomed.

All traders are already subject to deterrent penalties. If either of us started selling dangerous products online or elsewhere I wonder how long it would take for that to happen.

At present Amazon does take action to remove dangerous and counterfeit products that it is aware of. I have seen numerous examples of this. What is needed is to make Amazon and other marketplaces liable to prosecution if their traders do not comply with the law, but at present it is the individual traders that would eventually be prosecuted. Legislation is needed to move this forward.

I hope that Which? is working with the appropriate authorities to make sure this is achieved. I look forward to a new consumer protection bill.

Amazon seem to only remove unsafe etc products when someone else – like Which? – tells them.

We agree, it seems, that Amazon et al are made liable for prosecution for any misdemeanours of their market place traders; that is the stance I have always taken. These traders cannot be prosecuted individually if they are outside the EU or UK legislation, as most of them are.

So what legislation do you propose, apart from making the market place hosts responsible for deficient products?

As a consumer I want to see our citizens protected from being able to purchase dangerous and counterfeit products. How this can be achieved when Amazon and eBay are US companies I do not know.

As an interim solution I would like to see Which? continuing to put pressure on the marketplaces that host dodgy traders and working with OPSS and National Trading Standards. I suggest that it is government that we should hold responsible for allowing the present problem to develop.

We and a few others have expressed a great deal of concern about this issue, Malcolm. Having spoken to quite a number of people they have pointed out that Amazon has a very efficient service for replacing or refunding purchases, a point that Ian has made frequently.

I also have shown a great deal of concern about this issue over many posts. It is irrelevant that Amazon has good customer service in some areas when they put customers’ health and safety at risk.

Amazon have a base in the UK and we should be able to make them responsible for all they sell, as should the EU with their European operations. Consumers should then be advised to ensure they only buy from these sources to protect themselves.

However, I still hope Which? will contribute information.

Hopefully we will get a progress update in the next magazine.

I don’t think it is irrelevant that Amazon runs an efficient after sales service since the most common concern about goods from dodgy traders is that they don’t work properly or fail prematurely.

The point I was making was it does not excuse them from participating in the supply of fake, unsafe and dangerous products. Putting a stop to that is what we should be addressing.

There are Primary Authority agreements between National Trading Standards and Amazon. These are intended to protect consumers and help businesses operate responsibly. NTS does not support the public directly and you may remember that I posted the contents of a couple of emails. From what I have read, Which? does communicate with NTS. As Jon pointed out recent, Which? cannot itself take enforcement action.

Acknowledging that some of us are strongly in favour of dangerous and counterfeit products being removed from sale (irrespective of source, I hope), I wonder about the scale of the problem. You have repeatedly pointed out that the number of fires caused by faulty white goods is low, which I acknowledge, but how many fires are caused by dodgy small electrical products sold online?

I simply go on what Which? report. By the time they find examples of “bad” products it is clear that many more of those uncovered are likely to be in the public domain, and it is likely that many different products are never uncovered.

We have regulations to control the safety of appropriate products. Those regulations need to be applied universally to all UK distributors otherwise there is unnecessary consumer harm.

Trading Standards can take no punitive action when there is no relevant law in place.

I think there is a missing aspect to shoddy products regardless of Amazon having a “good” returns system. Essentially we the customers are a party to a system that hides the binning of rubbish and as long as we are happy we close our eyes to the waste involved.

And of course it is not totally true that we are “blind”. Some stuff is to cheap, or to fiddly or a faff to return so we actually chuck it ourselves.

There is also the major event when local authorities were deluged with unsafe lithium batteries roller toys which Amazon had sold or facilitated the sale off. And the reason for the recall being they were potentially fatal. Giving purchasers their money back solves it for Amazon who have recourse to the vendors but does not ensure they were not sold further on, nor the costs of dealing with them by the councils.

The idea that Amazon should make a contribution to the costs of the Councils involved in clearing up the mess of course is laughable. After all think of the tax they already pay.

I share your concerns about the amount of waste our society produces and lithium batteries are potentially dangerous waste that has to be handled properly. Garages levy a charge on disposal of tyres because they are difficult waste. Perhaps a surcharge on battery-powered products could be used to cover the costs of their safe disposal.

It would be interesting to know the costs of disposal of dodgy goods sold online and associated costs that we pay in taxes to support the costs of investigating and policing their sale. As you say, there is a problem with goods sold online being scrapped and that does not just apply to dodgy products.

BTW talking of buying stuff produced overseas this you may find of interest dealing with the US and child safety products.
propublica.org/article/house-subcommittee-says-proposed-booster-seat-safety-rules-fall-short

Essentially the NHTSA tasked with rule-making since 2000 by Congress left it to the manufacturers to make booster seat rules. And they were unsafe. Consumer bodies that miss the stories as presumably ConsumerReports did make one concerned that effective consumer representation needs to be a lot sharper. There should be an archive of businesses sharp practices so that the general public can be aware that despite their cuddly adverts large companies are not nice.

More trouble in store?
”Six in 10 toys from online marketplaces are a safety hazard for children, according to the British Toy and Hobby Association.
https://www.which.co.uk/news/2020/12/which-warns-parents-to-be-vigilant-when-buying-toys-online/