/ Motoring, Parenting

Are retailers fit to fit child car seats?

Mum putting child into car seat

Have you had bad (or good) experiences when buying a child car seat? I was genuinely shocked by the advice we were given by child car seat retailers in our undercover investigation – are you?

I’m a firm believer in the idea that if you sell any safety-critical product that could be compromised if not used correctly (in this case, one we know people often have problems getting right) the retailer has duty of care to offer fitting advice. I believe they also have a moral obligation to make sure that their advice is accurate.

For our investigation, we posed as customers and visited 43 stores in eight days (including big names like Babies R Us, Halfords, John Lewis, Mamas & Papas and Mothercare), covering more than 1,500 miles, to see what their advice was like.

The truth about fitting advice

Before we started the fieldwork I thought we would find some problems. After all, the pilot studies we’d carried out beforehand highlighted problems in some stores. But if I didn’t know the assistants were really trying their best, I could have been excused for thinking the ones in some branches we visited were actually trying to get it wrong!

We watched in frustration as some tried to find the right button to extend the Isofix prongs – required on some seats to allow installation. And for some who successfully installed the seat, we wanted to tell them how to release it again, but we knew we must simply watch and keep it buttoned.

In fact, in one store where I observed the belt being routed completely the wrong way, I couldn’t help but point and ask the question ‘when do you use the (obviously redundant) guide loops?’ In this case, it prompted a rapid re-think and the assistant hurriedly unthreaded the belt, before checking the diagram on the seat and eventually, (slightly red-faced), routing the belt through correctly and securing the seat.

Avoid the pitfalls

We secretly filmed each of the fitting demonstrations and we’ve published full results of the investigation, including a video illustration of some typical findings. You can also find free advice on buying, including a ‘download and print’ buyer’s checklist to help you avoid the pitfalls of poor retailer service when buying a seat.

We’ve opened discussions with the big retail chains in our investigation – starting by giving each detailed feedback about how it can improve its child car seat fitting services. And we’re hoping to work with several on an agreed retailer best practice charter that can be rolled out nationwide.

But what about customers who are getting bad advice in the meantime? Have you tried to buy a car seat and found the retailers to lack the knowledge or information you need?


I was looking for a child car seat in Halfords recently – was there for quite a while browsing and no one attempted to offer any advice at all. I could have easily just picked one up off the shelf and bought it, even though it probably would have been the wrong one! I agree with Dave that shop assistants should be much better trained to advise – it’s really confusing just choosing a car seat, let alone fitting it!

rebecca says:
23 September 2011

When we looked for our first car seat, Halfords, Penrith were terrible. The first time I went to a Halfords store the fitter couldn’t fit it he struggled and struggled then he went into the shop for the instructions. we could’ve done that ourselves. Following this we went to a mamas and papas store, carlisle. I asked if it would be possible to check the car seat fit in our car ok. The girl wasn’t keen on doing this but after asking a few times and saying I wouldn’t buy one without trying. She said they all fit so it’s not necessary to check???!!! Eventually she agreed. She couldn’t fit the car seat after a long attempt, gave up and had a go to find help. The winner, Mothercare in Carlisle who have helped us with everything from car seats to bedding. Nothing is a trouble for them.

Kevin says:
15 February 2012

I have fitted a number of car seats and know from experience that the only way to ensure a carseat fits properly, is to check it in the car first after reading the manufacturers instructions thoroughly. Relying on demonstrations and researching supplier fit finders is not reliable enough as surveys often indicate that more than 2 in 3 are fitted incorrectly.
It would be a good idea if someone could set up a national database whereby qualified car-seat fitters could register what carseat had been fitted to a specific car and the seat positions tested in. It may sound a little over the top but would make things a lot safer.
Come on WHICH why not champion a registered database of approved car seat fitters and a database so people can register their carseat and car that has been checked. In my experience when people put there name to something they tend to give the right advice and those that aren’t registered should not be used.

As someone who works in one of the retailers mentioned part time, I would like to defend the staff and criticise Which overall.

Retail staff are always poorly trained and support, also underpaid.

Retailer I work for provides one day training on child seat fitting, shows 3 or 4 seats and then throws you back to store.

Beyond that, you get retrained every 2 years.

When new products come into store, staff are expected to just know how to use them, even though every seat seems to have a unique fitting system.

On top of this, the staff are typically minimum wage, which is simply not enough to live on, so beyond minimum requirement of their role, they don’t get paid enough to care about learning each seat and giving 110% effort to every customer.

As far as Which goes, they do good research and provide excellent advise, but it’s always by blaming staff in store.

Why don’t Which help push retailers to move to a Living Wage and provide better support to staff training instead of blaming the staff for a lack of knowledge.

I take your point but the introduction does say: “We’ve opened discussions with the big retail chains in our investigation – starting by giving each detailed feedback about how it can improve its child car seat fitting services. And we’re hoping to work with several on an agreed retailer best practice charter that can be rolled out nationwide.” That to me recognises that it’s the employer that is responsible for its employees and should take the blame for problems.

Unfortunately, there is no further information from Which? and the author of this Conversation left Which? years ago. When Which? says it is going to take some action if would be good to find out what happened.

Hey all,

I just spoke to the new W? team who cover car seats about this query. They pointed me to this piece of research: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/child-car-seats/article/fitting-a-baby-car-seat-or-child-car-seat/car-seat-fitting-which-retailer-is-best

Hope it’s helpful.


Employers have the responsibility to train their staff and see that their staff carry out appropriate practices properly, whether it is fitting child seats, or the Consumer Rights Act, or product knowledge. Equally, when an employee recognises they do not have the knowledge or skill necessary to help a customer then they should ask their manager, or a properly-trained employee, for assistance. So you could blame either party for not taking the right action, but that’s a very negative approach in my view. Pointing out deficiencies and taking appropriate corrective action is much more positive.

For someone to use the wage they have accepted as a reason for “not caring” shows an attitude that is unlikely to lead to progression. Most of us started on low wages or salaries. Many improved their position by learning more at our own cost (I travelled across London in the evening to an appropriate college), by displaying a good attitude and a desire to learn more and by earning progression, if not with a current employer then with another who recognised potential.

“When Which? says it is going to take some action if would be good to find out what happened.”

So true.

What action can Which? take? It has had no real impact on Currys, Amazon, Whirlpool, VW, use of the Consumer Rights Act…….. We could do with a real debate on how a consumers’ association can take meaningful action. It seems to me to require robust research, carefully-constructed and representative surveys, consumer support based on balanced information, and then ……..?

I believe it needs far more than just its current member base to achieve action. Somehow it needs to engage with a much larger consumer group to provide convincing cases for action. We need a consumers’ union, perhaps.