/ 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

When asked to vote for all that apply, I ticked manufacturer, seller, marketplace and government. However the next screen tells me I can only vote for one, so, make up your minds which, Which?
As regards the article, yes. In the high street and mall shops would be prosecuted for selling dangerous goods and the trading standards department would (should) step in. The general public have no reliable way of knowing what is unsatisfactory until they have bought the product and found out the hard way when it arrives at the door. Eventually enough people are fooled to cause the rest to avoid that product, though fake reviews don’t help. From that sequence, it is clear that it is far too easy to make and sell rubbish and dangerous rubbish. If the manufacturer is unscrupulous -and untouchable in China – then the seller is the next one to blame. If they are untouchable – in China – then the marketplace has a duty to intervene, because they are touchable and should be touched when ever they fail. Of course this means that every marketplace has to inspect every product it sells, and if that goes into millions of products that’s not easy. Somewhere along the line, someone must look at what is being sold before it gets to the consumer. Is this possible? Can the Government do this with every container that gets to the port? It would seem that it is only when something catches fire, is shown to be a fake or it breaks on first use, is it picked up and by that time, many have bought it. Perhaps Which? can suggest how we can strengthen the system as it campaigns on our behalf.

I just voted exactly the same as you Vynor and got the ‘maximum number of choices allowed: 1’ reply.

As to how I broke that poll, I have no idea, however it’s fixed now. Sorry about that, you should be able to vote and choose multiple answers as you’d expect.

No, it isn’t. After inserting one tick, it jumped up to the top of the topic. Never allowed me to submit.

I found a different problem. It did not show my choices in italics, as most polls do. In experimenting, I seem to have been allowed to vote several times.

These appear to be two in the same problem – for whatever reason the HTML tags in the poll title appear to be dropping the close anchor tag, and this has been turning the ensuing text into one link that points back to the top of the Conversation. Where this link appears hasn’t been consistent – sometimes it’s every poll option, others it’s just the header, and sometimes it extends beyond to the bottom of the conversation itself.

I’ve removed the link from the poll, so this should rectify the jump to the top, and am testing for the multiple vote issue as well to see if it’s persisting. Sorry about the inconvenience on this, grateful for your patience.

Nope.Still broke

Worked fine for me… Try logging in, Peter.

The manufacturer is legally responsible for its products being safe, as is a seller. Trading Standards is intended to provide enforcement, carry out market surveillance and deal with problems such as counterfeit goods, although it is not provided with adequate funding to do this, thanks to the deficiencies of a succession of governments.

The biggest uncertainty, in my mind, is the legal responsibility of the marketplace. When I contacted Amazon over a safety issue, I was told to deal with the marketplace trader. I believe that Amazon should take full responsibility for dealing with safety issues and other problems. To give an analogy, if I bought a kitchen the company I paid would be responsible if their plumber or electrician did a poor job.

Unfortunately most of the unsafe items are produced in China and what comes out of there seems not to comply with UK regulations. Surely samples should be submitted for approval before bulk orders are delivered to this country.
I doubt that even this would prevent dubious quality items finding their way into our market.

Retailers that sell in shops and online generally manage to select safe products. Many of them are made in China too, although we might not know that until we unwrap them.

These retailers take their responsibility for their customers seriously and either use reliable suppliers or arrange to have goods tested before agreeing to sell them. Which? has not carried out an exhaustive investigation of the online marketplaces, but there is enough evidence to suggest that there is a serious problem. I would like to see goods independently tested before they can be sold via these marketplaces.

In my view the responsibility for goods sold via on-line market places rests with the owners of the market places. They should ensure, by whatever means, that the goods they sell are safe. The problem with rogue suppliers, such as we keep seeing selling dangerous goods, is that they will fake tests, reports, compliance with standards and, no doubt, even if independently tested may not have adequate quality controls to maintain standards. Properly assessing the source of supply needs to be done and only decent suppliers used.

As I see it, imposing severe penalties on those who are found to facilitate the placing of dangerous products on the UK market will stop the problem.

As I said in my post above, making the marketplace owner responsible for the goods other people are selling in that marketplace is something of a grey area and I think an Act of Parliament or a high profile test case would be needed to clarify the position. As it currently stands, when you buy something you are making a contract with the person selling the item, if there is a problem it is that person or company that is in breach of the contract you made even if they are in China.

Imagine an average town marketplace; if you bought something from a stall that turned out to be faulty you would return to the stall to complain rather than trying to get your money back from the local authority even though the council owns the marketplace and probably advertises the market and receives monies from the stallholder…

Many would be wary about buying kid’s toys, electrical goods and expensive items from a stall on the marketplace but what Amazon and other marketplaces have done is to give consumers confidence to buy. Amazon does seem to help ensure that customers receive refunds for unwanted and faulty goods. Since goods are selected and paid for via the Amazon etc. websites I believe that these companies should take action to ensure that traders are selling products that meet all relevant standards. All that seems to happen is that when Which? reports a problem the dodgy goods are removed from sale.

One of the benefits of having local Trading Standards services is that they can keep an eye on local traders including those with market stalls. With online traders it might be better if a national service handled and aggregated complaints from the public but that’s not what happens at present.

I agree that it would be useful to have legal test cases.

It seems very hard nowadays to purchase anything which does not come from China or PRC as it’s also known as. When using electrical stuff, I always use either a surge protector socket bar or a Residual Current Device. I read somewhere that 80% of all shoes are made in China. Just think, if we all made a conscientious effort to buy UK manufactured goods even if it did cost a little extra for a while, not only would it boost our own traders but also considerably reduce the emissions in our planet. I am trying hard to do just that. Just saying . . . . . !

Trouble is the Trading Standards departments haven’t been properly on top of the job since Thatcher made the first round of cuts to our front line services and since then there has been further shrinkage up to Cameron’s cuts that were the most swingeing by far. The most surprising thing about this “spider administration” is our spider being left with only two legs hasn’t yet been killed off which would be normal…

It should be no surprise that most of our consumer goods are imported; Britain makes very few consumer durables, which is a good part of the reason why we are in the red by more than £1.8 trillion that is increasing at frightening speed…

In addition to all the the options in the survey above, I think householders must also accept some responsibility for the safety of the items that they buy.

As a motorcyclist, I’m well aware that the poor driving of other road users might easily cause accidents in which I could be injured or even killed. But rather than choosing to just blame those others, I opt to ride defensively, so that I can allow for the poor safety performance of others.

We need to make sure that goods offered for sale are safe, irrespective of source. How does someone know if a phone charger is safe? I would not want to live in a flat or tower block if other residents were using dodgy electrical goods that could set fire to the place.

wavechange, I think a good way to sure of buying a safe phone charger would be to go to a reputable retailer and buy one of a reputable brand from there.

Actually, most new phones still come with chargers, so the best way would be buy a phone that comes with a charger and then take care of it. Judging by the pile in my old phones drawer, the chargers usually last me longer than the phones.

That’s what I do too, Derek. In fact I have just paid £79 to that rip-off company Apple for a laptop charger. I could have paid less from other sources but the high price of Apple accessories has resulted in the market being flooded with counterfeit products that may not be safe.

Even if we are careful about what we buy and look after it, the problem remains that those who don’t understand or care about these issues could harm themselves or others, which is why I mentioned residents in flats and tower blocks.

Not the best analogy. How would you know if your motorbike is safe to drive? Most products don’t undergo MOT and are not subjected to strict tests as cars and motorbikes. How would anybody know cadmium levels in a lovely toy?

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Frenske – these analogies are seldom ever perfect.

If I already own a motorbike, then I’m responsible for maintaining it and keeping it in MoT’s and insurance. If I want to buy another one, where might I best go to do that?

But suppose, for example, I were buying a secondhand iPhone. Would I buy it online from someone I’ve never met or from a local shop, where I could easily look it over before purchase and/or take it back if any problems? Which of those approaches would be more risky? How, if at all, could I mitigate my risks in either case?

Duncan – Every home should have a portable XRF analyser, but Frenske was making a serious point. There is no way of knowing whether products are safe or not.

Derek – We hope that well known companies will take safety seriously, but sometimes it can be a challenge. About six years ago I wanted to buy a set of LED Christmas lights but knew nothing about which brand to buy. If the power supply does not contain a fuse or other protection, it could melt or go on fire.

I maintain that we should be entitled to buy safe products. The consumer can do their bit by checking for damage and using them as specified by the manufacturer.

“The manufacturer is legally responsible for its products being safe,“. I’d suggest that depends upon the country of the manufacturer, their attitude to such matters, the standards they observe (if any), for example. There is nothing to stop a “delinquent” manufacturer from making what they like and trying to sell it. And, even if they work to standards, what is regarded as safe in one country may well be regarded as unsafe in another.

But, to us in the UK (EU for now), what matters is compliance with our own regualtions and safety standards. It is who attempts to put those products on the market in destination countries – the importer / distributor / seller for example – that matters and hold responsibility. It is our regulations and standards that decide the safety of products that are acceptable to us; only those that comply can legally be put on our market. It is here we must focus our attention.

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Thanks Duncan. I don’t know whether this is better or worse than the one I chose. Our present system requires compliance with published standards and we cannot be sure if companies comply.

Amazon and eBay safety issues spark Which? call for stronger regulation of marketplaces
20 November 2019
Amazon and eBay are failing to take basic steps to stop listing toys for sale that appear to have been declared unsafe by the EU’s safety alert system, according to a Which? investigation.
The consumer champion is now calling on the next government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold.

https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/amazon-and-ebay-safety-issues-spark-which-call-for-stronger-regulation-of-marketplaces/

I’m pleased to see this and hope Which? have success. A pity Trading Standards appear unable to take action.

There will always be delinquent manufacturers who choose to manufacture dangerous, unsafe products. We will never stop that. However, for those products that are subject to regulation in the EU, it is illegal to put those products on the market. Therefore those who distribute them – import, sell – are responsible for their provenance. This includes checking that the products comply with the necessary standards and regulations, usually done by examining the declarations of conformity that the manufacturer produces. The delinquent manufacturer will fake this documentation so the distributor must take due diligence to ensure authenticity by whatever means – and if he is not satisfied should decline to distribute.

We then need a proper policing system – such as Trading Standards should operate if they were properly resourced – to check suspect importers and products, react to public reports of problem products, and, crucially, impose severe penalties on those who fail. Make careless or criminal trading not financially worthwhile.

This should apply to market places who facilitate this trade, particularly when they hold stock, take payment and distribute.

eBay said: “Sellers aren’t permitted to list dangerous products on eBay,”
Amazon said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who do not will be subject to action including potential removal of their account.”

Clearly there are sellers who do not obey eBay and Amazon so their policing of their systems is inadequate. A rather pointless response.

Distributors – and I regard eBay and Amazon as just that – must obey EU regulations for the products they distribute. We need to hold them properly to account to ensure they, in turn, are careful with the integrity of their sellers

Which? product reviews on the website frequently suggest Amazon Marketplace in their lists of where to buy? In view of the problems with marketplace sellers I suggest getting rid of these recommendations.

Which? claims independence but I reckon that suggesting any retailers compromises this competence. Users of the reviews can surely manage to do their own web searches and decide which company to buy from.

As we have seen before, they are not necessarily the cheapest, nor are the products a best buy, even though we are directed there by Which? And, in view of their poor control of product safety, perhaps we should not be encouraged to deal with them except for well-known products until proper controls are in place.

I wrote: “Which? claims independence but I reckon that suggesting any retailers compromises this competence.” That should read: “…that compromises this independence.”

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Taking revenue in the way you suggest would be against the principles of Which?, in my view, as it needs to remain independent of (the potential for) commercial influence. I have no objection to being given information on the best places to buy something.

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When buying products I take other things into account, other than price. By listing Amazon Marketplace and Currys in ‘Where to buy’ it is promoting places that have come in for significant criticism here. Anyone with the most basic computer skills will be able to find and compare prices. What we have at present compromises the claimed independence of Which?

I think it was Patrick Taylor who told us that Which? received funding from Pricerunner.

At least we know that companies pay to be featured in the Which? Trusted Trader scheme and are assessed to check their competence.

Actually, I think it is useful for Which? to show where particular appliances can be purchased. They (pretty much) have to do this if they test things like Argos, John Lewis and Currys own brands, so why not also show where to get good deals on alternatives?

That said, I think Which? should avoid advertising revenue or sponsorship from manufacturers and retailers. Otherwise, conflicts of interest can occur.

Also, whilst I realise the the internet is a thing now, I do wonder if Which? gives undue bias in favour of Amazon and Amazon market place relative to other online vendors. As shown by other convos here, there are still unaddressed problems of online retailers trying to sell non-UK specification products to UK consumers, even where these breach UK safety regulations.

Duncan has suggested that Which? is promoting certain retailers in order to generate revenue, from a form of sales commission presumably. I personally doubt this but it is a fair comment.

I hope that it is not the case and that there is no commercial influence over how Which? gives consumers advice on where to buy things because that would be wholly outwith the Which? philosophy and principles.

Where there are breaches of regulations or unfair trading Which? needs to stand up to those companies robustly and initiate action against them if necessary which, if there are no commercial considerations compromising its position, it can do without fear or favour.

The fact is that for many people now in our desertified retail landscape the only convenient places to buy some products at good value prices are the likes of Amazon and Currys PC World.

@jon-stricklin-coutinho, morning Jon 🙂 . Would you like to comment on the suggestion made earlier that “Which is doing what many websites do promoting products that can generate revenue….“. Do Which? benefit financially when they list Amazon for a product and a visitor to the Which? website either clicks on a link and/or buys the product via a link?

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I do not know what Which?’s “plan” is Duncan.

If Which? effectively pays a website to advertise itself by enhanced “promotion” I’m fine with that. We need a much larger membership to make Which? even more effective. Every little helps.

Hi everyone,

I will be passing on all these comments on to the team who deal with the links to where to buy.

We do make money from these link and, as you know, it goes straight back in to the organisation and helps us do all the work you see. The other element is that it is something that many members want to see. Please be assured there is a very large firewall between the testing teams and the teams that deal with affiliate links and the endorsement scheme as our independence is one of our biggest priorities.

The point about listing retailers we have highlighted issues with is an interesting one and I will raise it for discussion.

It is difficult to claim independence if a revenue stream is generated in the way suggested, as Which? will have some dependence upon those providing the money – by needing to sustain the income.

” it is something that many members want to see.“. I’d suggest members want to see links – of course they are useful – but I doubt members who think about the possible consequences would want Which? to be “rewarded” by a commercial organisation such as Amazon for directing members to them, ignoring other possibly better sources. When I looked at such a promotion by Which? last year, products promoted by direct links to Amazon were available cheaper elsewhere, and many were not recommended best buy products by Which?. That approach seems not to be in the interests of consumers.

I raised a similar concern about Which? mortgage advisers. They claimed none of their advisers worked on commission – true. However, commissions were paid to Which? for their financial services by some of the mortgage companies. It is hard to imagine that this source of revenue was ignored in their business plan, particularly for a company struggling financially.

I do not think commercial reward from such sources should play any part on Which?’s income if it is to be seen as totally independent.

Thanks Abby. I have no objection to Which? comparing retailers. The regular reports on customer satisfaction are useful and it would be really useful to have a report on how well they handle problems with faulty electrical goods. Which? did report on this some years ago and did a follow-up report a year later, but I don’t remember any similar investigation since then.

I am not comfortable with Abby’s explanation of Which?’s commercial arrangements and it smacks of complacency.

I believe these arrangements – that so far as I am aware have not previously been disclosed and only now obscurely – do compromise Which?’s independence and objectivity. I am worried that it might have inhibited effective action on two of the major issues that have been brought to attention in the last two or three years, but without resolution, involving Currys PC World upselling computer set-up services in a possibly deceitful manner, and Amazon continuing to market electrical products in the UK with non-compliant plugs and not offering a correct remedy in the event of a complaint. There are other examples that have been referred to in Which? Conversation.

It’s all very well saying that the increased revenue enables Which? to do all the work we see. Given a choice between some of the work carried out and monetising Which’s unique covenant I would prefer a pure approach even if that curtailed or eliminated some of the more marginal activities. It is not the testing that I think is at risk but Which?’s precious reputation for honest and impartial guidance to consumers. I am afraid the ends do not always justify the means.

Hi @johnward, We do have a disclaimer saying we receive payment for affiliate links on the pages themselves.

https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/fridge-freezers/aeg-rmb76111nx/compare-prices

This is not really a “disclaimer” but a statement that Which? receive payment for providing used links that are used by customers:

The retailers shown are supplied by PriceRunner.co.uk. This may not include every retailer selling the product online. When a retailer link is followed we receive a payment from PriceRunner, irrespective of whether a purchase is made.

Which? is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn affiliate fees by linking to Amazon.co.uk. For products subsequently purchased via Amazon, we receive a payment from them rather than from PriceRunner.

The suspicion must always be that, as such revenue-earning links are important to Which?’s income, there may be bias in directing customers to such sellers. i believe we should sever Which? from such suspicion.

I see no valid reason why, apart from revenue, Which? should do this. Simply provide useful links without any “fees”. We must always wonder why Amazon, for example, has been fairly exempt from action by Which? in its sale of dangerous products, illegal 2-pin plugs.

Thank you Abby. I did some product searches for a number of different kitchen appliances and must admit that I did not notice the small [tiny] print containing the “disclaimer”. My mind was focussed on the product specifications and performance of the different machines.

I accept that there is a reference to a kick-back in some form to Which? and presume it is legally adequate.

When I use Which? to compare products I don’t click through to the retailer but I suppose many do creating a worthwhile revenue stream. I regret that commerce has descended into this kind of behind-the-scenes distortion of the open trading arrangement such that even Which? feels compelled to participate in an affiliate programme with giants like Amazon; it kind of undercuts the high moral stance that Which? tries to take on other issues [e.g. the death of the high street].

I would like to see the practice of affiliate payments for product referrals outlawed because it is not in consumers’ interests but, obviously, I cannot expect Which? to support that.

I have received copied product from prominent Sellers online. This has grown beyond control.

I am having a little difficulty reconciling Which?’s claims to give independent advice and protect the consumer from harm when they appear to be condemning Amazon’s bad behaviour (dangerous products, pricing claims) on the one hand, then promoting them and profiting financially from their relationship on the other:

1. Amazon’s best Black Friday deals chosen by Which? experts
Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/11/amazons-best-black-friday-deals-chosen-by-which-experts/ – Which?

2. The great Black Friday swindle: Just one in 20 ‘deals’ cheapest on Black Friday, Which? finds
26 November 2019
https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/the-great-black-friday-swindle-just-one-in-20-deals-cheapest-on-black-friday-which-finds/

“Nearly all Black Friday ‘deals’ are cheaper or available for the same price at other times of the year, a new Which? investigation has found, as the consumer champion urges shoppers to do their research before buying.
The consumer champion looked at deals from retailers including Currys PC World, Amazon and John Lewis, and found just four (5%) products that were cheaper on Black Friday than at other times of the year.
• The Amazon Echo (2nd Gen) (Smart speaker with Alexa – charcoal fabric) was on offer at £54.99 (39% off) on Amazon but it was cheaper on at least 13 occasions before Black Friday.”

3. Amazon and eBay safety issues spark Which? call for stronger regulation of marketplaces
https://press.which.co.uk/whichpressreleases/amazon-and-ebay-safety-issues-spark-which-call-for-stronger-regulation-of-marketplaces/

4. “Which? is a participant in the Amazon EU Associates Programme, an affiliate programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn affiliate fees by linking to Amazon.co.uk. For products subsequently purchased via Amazon, we receive a payment from them……….

Indeed. On W?C, I think we have been aware of these issues for some time. I wonder how long it will be before one has to subscribe to Amazon’s consumer services division “Amazon Which?” in order to get pay-as-you go consumer advice?

The De’Longhi Autentica Cappucino Bean-to-Cup coffee maker was one I bought as a present last year. Curiously, it fell around £90 the week after the Black Friday sale, so I bought it then.

I agree about the oddities of the BF Sale, however; items are rarely cheaper than they are at other times of the year. In early October I penned a new topic on Amazon and it’s a mystery to me why it hasn’t yet appeared.

CONRAD32 received a copy product. This could be a counterfeit product, advertised as the genuine article or just a similar product that is not claimed to be genuine (underhand but not illegal). Counterfeit products should be reported to Trading Standards and it’s worth letting both the seller know that you have done this.

Mary Creagh (ex Labour MP – unfortunately, she just lost her seat) posted on Which? earlier this year, informing everyone about the inquiry her Environmental Audit Committee was making into toxic chemicals in everyday life. In its final report in July, the EAC pointed out that the government needs to put right the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations, i.e. because the Department for Business proved 5 years ago that they don’t work. But the vast volumes of toxic flame retardants that are used to meet their requirements are still in our furniture, giving us cancers and a whole range of health problems, as well as making sofas/mattresses even more toxic when they burn.

In its final report, the EAC recommended that the government should change these regulations to bring them in line with the rest of the world, and thereby remove flame retardants from our furniture. They also specifically recommended that children’s mattresses should be removed from the scope of these regulations. Mary had been horrified to learn that our children’s (and adult) mattresses are stuffed with organophosphate flame retardants, the same that were banned from sheep dip for being so toxic. The EAC was disgusted when the Department for Business responded to in effect say it’s going to start all over again (i.e. do nothing) in reviewing these regulations.

But here’s the thing. I received a copy of Which? today that includes a big feature on mattresses. What I want to know is why is there no mention in this piece about the fact that all the mattresses listed, including Best Buys, are dangerous in that they are flammable when they aren’t supposed to be? Or that almost all of them contain flame retardant chemicals which are going to damage consumers’ health and make any house fire much more toxic? Why is there nothing about which mattresses contain more and which less of flame retardants, and what types of FRs?

Which? had/has access to the EAC’s report, the testimonies and submissions. So why isn’t Which? recommending that none of these mattresses are safe? Why isn’t it steering people to where they can buy mattresses that at least do not contain toxic flame retardants?

I make it a point to find out the place of origin of products I buy online – any mention of China then there is no way I will purchase the goods. If everyone boycotted Chinese goods then maybe- just maybe- someone in authority would take some action. I go by the old saying ‘buy cheap you get cheap’.

I agree. Trading Standards should stop imports. The CE regulation is worthless. The Chinese manufacturer’s name and address is never shown. They therefore never have to replace faulty products so are laughing all the way to the bank. UK retailers are fools and should stop imports. We have to bring back the BS spec for traded electrical goods and quality materials used in manufacture. Which? can do a lot to make this happen. Always show the manufacturer and say if none is indicated. If appliances are John Lewis we need to know they are Electrolux to help male our choice.

Poll is working fine for me

Jan Tovey says:
16 December 2019

I will never purchase any electrical item off market stalls or cheapest shops.

Howard Banks says:
16 December 2019

I feel that all off the above should have a part to play in stopping this rubbish getting on to the market, although I have to say I would never buy from a street market these type of lights as I always ask to se them working and that would normally not be possible. If it is you get to have a closer look at the quality its normally a give away. These type of lights are very poorly made and should ring alarm bells.

John Kilgour says:
16 December 2019

I could not vote, because there is no indication on screen as to where to click. This feature occurs on other Which? polls.

Sorry about the issue with the poll, John! Could you send a screen grab of what the poll looks like on your screen to conversation.comments@which.co.uk? That’ll help us investigate what the issue may be.

Also try a different browser…

It is tricky working out who is responsible for goods “not of marketable quality” from online marketplaces. Conventionally a purchaser’s contract is with the retailer and therefore the retailer has a duty to discharge that contract by providing goods of marketable quality, but the fact is Amazon retails very few products under their own brand but as for the remainder of what it is possible to buy from Amazon, their position in law could be they are acting as an agent and being paid expenses and commission for their services by other retailers and manufacturers. As Amazon never owned the goods, it is doubtful they could be held responsible for faulty goods though the exact legal position is unclear – in the dim and distant past agents seemed to be much more responsible under Common Law than today when a complainant is more likely to find he is on the receiving end of a two-fingered salute.

Considering this there has to be a much stronger emphasis on “let the buyer beware”. It is very unwise to buy something no one is going to take direct responsibility for unless the item is low cost and the buyer is capable of judging whether it is a reasonable quality and at least safe to plug in and possibly leave unattended.and of course ensuring the insurance premiums are up to date and the policy includes legal expenses.
A fellow I used to work for once gave me the excellent advice that if something looked alright it probably would be alright and the only thing missing from the advice was what does a good example look like? Discovering what quality looks and feels like is an essential part of the research and needn’t be more complicated than browsing a store and paying attention to detail.

“It is very unwise to buy something no one is going to take direct responsibility for unless the item is low cost and the buyer is capable of judging whether it is a reasonable quality and at least safe to plug in and possibly leave unattended.and of course ensuring the insurance premiums are up to date and the policy includes legal expenses.”

Unfortunately it’s not possible to judge whether small electrical products are safe just be looking at them, Vernon. Which? has tested phone chargers, power banks and Christmas lights lights recently and in order to check their safety the cases will have been dismantled or broken open to carry out tests. In many cases, dodgy electrical goods can last for months or years but if a problem arises they can cause fire or electric shock. If you live in a detached house you only put yourself at risk but in a flat etc then your dangerous product could set someone else’s house on fire.

I don’t entirely agree and someone with the will to do so can play detective to a large extent without dismantling as mostly something that is cheap and nasty on the inside is often cheap and nasty on the outside – once a person has seen and handled a product of quality, based on manufacturers mostly not making anything better than it needs to be, should instantly recognise something lighter in weight, flimsier in construction with thinner wires, etc.
When something is plugged in for the first time it is always best practice to move a radio close by and switch it on and reject any device that causes interference – a sure sign it is cheap and nasty inside and for the first few hours to keep checking to see if the power supply is getting hot.

I totally agree that it’s worth rejecting anything that looks cheap and nasty but there are many problems that cannot be seen without dismantling electrical goods, for example insufficient clearance and creepage distances and omission of fuses or other safety components, or use of unsuitable plastics and other materials. Imagine a house without circuit breakers or fuses – no problem until there is a fault and then disaster.

I agree that it’s worth checking products for radio interference and there is a Conversation devoted to the interference caused by substandard LED lighting, and yes it’s well worth checking that power supplies don’t run hot.

We have detailed safety standards that manufacturers are required by law to comply with standards but there are plenty of dangerous electrical goods on sale: https://www.which.co.uk/news/2019/09/killer-chargers-travel-adaptors-and-power-banks-rife-on-online-marketplaces/ I would be surprised if either of us could look at phone chargers and decide which are safe.

While what you are saying is true I still maintain an ordinary person using good judgement can change the odds considerably in their favour against making a bad buy, the point being if it is hard to hold a supplier to account for a domestic disaster there has to be a greater element of caveat emptor until a better system comes along. I am not speaking of guarantees but of changing the odds in the consumer’s favour.
Sensible usage also has a part to play – such as plugging into a wall outlet instead of an extension lead and keeping the power supply away from curtains and other soft furnishings, switching off before going to bed or leaving the house…

I agree that until we have a satisfactory system in place we can do a lot to reduce risk personal. The power supply for my Christmas tree lights could be concealed behind the curtains but its away from flammable objects, on a metal tray.

I wouldn’t confine my plastic box behind the curtain even on a metal tray. I’d want full air flow. Mine’s on a ceramic tile on the floor away from the tree

Usually I use an ancient school slate but that’s gone missing, hence the metal tray.

Probably purloined by Jamie Oliver to serve your Christmas pud..

He must have returned it, so the slate is now in its usual position – which is not behind the curtain. The power supply is on a short extension with a 2 amp fuse because I don’t know whether there is an internal fuse or other protection.

Rodney Tucker says:
16 December 2019

My lights have always come rom a high street shop where I know they will be held responsible for selling unsound products.

I tend to use that approach too 🙂

I now try to avoid buying Children’s toys online, as I don’t trust eBay or Amazon to ‘Police, ‘ their sites correctly. All goods from China should be tested before being allowed into the Country. I also think the Government should be more pro-active in testing goods that are not made in the UK. Sellers should also be responsible for the goods they sell online.

OK, I’m 61 but I must confess I still enjoy occasional visits to toy shops. For children’s toys, I have a Smyths store just down the road, next to Maccies.

Wow! I’m so glad I’m not the only one. Takes me back to when we used to do the pre-emptive Christmas shopping for the kids’ presents in Toys R Us each year.

My boys had much enjoyment from some toys that they could take apart to see how they worked – radio controlled cars for example.

I wish we could see more toys built of materials other than plastic. I had a real job to find a push-along walker toy for a new-ish grand daughter. Almost every one was plastic. My kids had “Dobbin” – a stuffed furry donkey on wheels with a steel frame that they could sit on and then push to help them walk. I eventually found a dog with a wooden frame that does the same job. When it arrived it was “made in China”. I assume the dog is a replica………..

Our two loved building – which primarily meant Lego. For a few years each Christmas would see the latest and largest castle / fort / Pirate ship / monorail which would start to be assembled on Christmas morning, a pause for dinner, then continued assembly until; bed time.

One thing I did notice and that was the gradual effect of Sherry on precision building…

Duplo when they were younger, then Lego gave lasting pleasure. Their eyes now light up when younger family members are given such toys that they can “help” them with. Just like electric train sets used to occupy the adults.

I’m waiting for a small delivery of Manzanilla, along with a couple of favourite gins.

I see Amazon sell a lot of gin – I stopped counting at 300 entries, although none apparently from marketplace sellers.

Luckily I haven’t had any problems, this doesn’t mean that I won’t have in the future. Consequently I do have sympathy with those who have experienced faulty, dangerous goods. Everyone loves a bargain and it’s very tempting to buy cheaply but not at the expense of putting yourself in danger. But how are we to know what is and what isn’t dangerous.
I would imagine that Trading Standards have a nationwide database with information on that could be shared with the general public. Therefore I believe it would be helpful if we could subscribe to an email newsletter to give me us up to date information on what items have been proved to be dangerous, and reminders on what to lookout for.

Hi Maggie – This list of recalls is reasonably user friendly and covers everything from electrical goods to pot noodles: https://www.tradingstandards.uk/consumers/product-recalls-and-safety-notices It is based on data from the EU rapex database.

Electrical Safety First used to provide reliable email notification of recalls and has useful advice, but it now misses many of the recalls and I have not had any emails recently: https://www.electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk

Regan Toomer says:
16 December 2019

The CE-marked label indicates that the product is safe by EU standards, but who ensures that the label is genuine and that whoever put it there is accountable? Then we have to consider what will happen if we do leave the EU: will the CE mark still be valid, and if not then what will our government put in its place? This is a very important question, the answer to which should have been publicised long ago, and certainly before our government started imposing Brexit time limits on itself!

There will be a new UKCA mark after Brexit: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/prepare-to-use-the-ukca-mark-after-brexit

The CE mark will continue to be valid for imported goods but the new mark will replace it for appropriate goods made in the UK and sold here.

I wonder what idiot invented a new mark instead of using our friendly old BSI Kitemark?

The British Standards Institute gave sterling service pre-EU and it would be nice to think we are returning to something familiar.

BSI tests a limited range of products and like the CE mark, the new UKCA mark is intended to be used as a declaration of compliance for other products. Although the Kitemark has been misused the number of cases is relatively small.

The UKCA mark will only be necessary if we have a no deal Brexit, because it is an EU mark Otherwise it is likely CE marking will remain valid. If we wish to export products to the EU we will still need to meet the CE marking requirements and mark products accordingly. In most cases the UKCA mark is equivalent to CE as the standards will remain common to the EU and the UK.

Julie says:
17 December 2019

Hello these tree lights are dangerous and this shouldn,Lots t be happening any item that causes fire risk, lots of dodgy goods are being sold in shops why?

Worked fine for me – included the three I chose!