/ Shopping

Do you know your online marketplace rights?

Online marketplaces offer bargains from the comfort of your home, but your rights are different depending on where you buy. Should you proceed with caution?

Rather than braving the rain and the crowds, I’ll be looking for gifts, baubles and this year’s Christmas jumper online. It’s not just me – last December for every £5 Brits spent shopping, £1 was spent online.

But in the rush to find the right gifts at the best prices, it’s easy to forget that online marketplaces, such as Amazon Marketplace, Wish and Facebook Marketplace, should be treated with caution.

This year for example, we found eight ‘slimes’ (basically packaged goo that children seem to love) for sale from sellers on Amazon Marketplace that failed to meet safety standards. After our report, Amazon removed them from sale.

Buyer beware

You have to be careful too about different types of sellers on marketplaces. Buy from an established retailer and you’re protected by the Consumer Rights Act. Buy from a private individual and they don’t have to disclose faults so it’s a case of ‘buyer beware’.

A woman contacted our Consumer Rights team to say she had bought Converse trainers secondhand on Facebook Marketplace.

Facebook Marketplace: your rights explained

She made a bank transfer for £35 but the trainers that arrived were obviously fakes. She complained to Facebook, but the seller had already disappeared from the site and she lost her money – when buying from a marketplace, your contract is usually with the seller, not the website.

It can be tricky to tell where you’re buying from. Seeing ‘co.uk’ in a URL may reassure you that items will be delivered from the UK, but often goods are still shipped from China, so you risk presents not arriving in time.

International sellers

Buying internationally can also make it harder to sort out problems that may arise. When you buy from a retailer that is not actively marketing to the UK or EU, your rights will usually be different, so check the small print.

If you’re ordering from EU retailers, you’re protected as if you bought them in the UK. We’re fighting to make sure you get the same choice of high-quality, safe products after Brexit.

So this Christmas if you’re buying gifts, take the time you saved by not heading to the shops to double check what you’re buying. Read reviews carefully, get clued up on your rights and consider where your goods are coming from.

This contribution to Which? Conversation first appeared in the December 2018 edition of Which? Magazine (page 15: ‘Inside view’).

Are you a regular user of online marketplaces? Have you experienced any issues with them? Let us know.


Also beware that PayPal doesn’t give you any protection if the goods turn out not to be durable in breach of Section 9(3)(e) of the Consumer Rights Act 2015. Despite PayPal’s promises of buyer protection, by the time you’ve discovered that the goods are not durable (perhaps after a few months), PayPal’s protection has expired and is worthless. You’re far better of paying merchants directly (not via an intermediary) with a credit card, so that you’re covered by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 for goods costing £100 or more.

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Duncan, I think a more lireral tranlation of “Filaire Electronique” is simply “wired electronics”, so wouldn’t necessarily specify the presence of a European plug.

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OK Duncan – please feel free to continue as you always do.

I must admit that I cannot see how putting a French description of the power lead in an English product summary would effectively “delude UK customers into thinking there is a British plug attached”. I prefer C-U to conspiracy theory in this instance.

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I am afraid I do not think that this is a c**k-up but a deliberate action. That is the only French wording on the advert is suspicious. However regardless of that Amazon should not be despatching items in breach of the UK requirements. Does anyone care enough to take action? Or is it a general let things slide view on enforcement?

Consumer champion that takes millions? from Amazon. Tricky.

It was just my opinion, Duncan. I am not trying to change your mind and I don’t want to make a Federal case out of it as I am not really interested in what happens in the USA. None of us can possibly tell whether the misinformation was deliberate or not. I don’t think I have even seen any reference to what the product was. As Derek has pointed out “filaire electronique” does not even refer to the power lead and plug.

I have expressed my views ad nauseam on how to deal with Amazon’s unlawful selling of products with two-pin plugs into the UK market in the relevant Conversations and I am awaiting a response from Which?. See Wavechange’s and my most recent posts – https://conversation.which.co.uk/home-energy/plugs-two-pin-british-amazon-electrical-appliances/#comment-1554856111

Until Amazon complies with the law, our advice to purchasers must surely be, first to read the product description and reviews carefully, and second if anything is not clear submit a question to Amazon and point out any errors or deficiencies in the information given. Unfortunately, people need to protect themselves in the current market conditions. If I spot something wrong I submit a review and Amazon publishes it. “The Only Thing Necessary for the Triumph of Evil is that Good Men Do Nothing”.

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Duncan – the power tool in question is a 240V model.

I don’t expect there would be much demand for that model in the USA, because the mains voltage is 120V there. Hence I doubt there’ll be an Amazon USA page for it.

I was quoting Derek, Duncan. My French vocabulary does not extend to the meaning of “filaire” although I don’t think it means “cable” or “plug”. But that is not the point – the question is whether, as you and Patrick allege, Amazon is printing this in a deliberate attempt to mislead prospective purchasers, or whether it is just a mistake caused by sloppy editorial control [for which Amazon product descriptions are well-known].

I still question how giving such information in French can be a deliberate attempt [as you suggest] by Amazon to mislead British people into thinking they are buying a product with a UK power lead. It just doesn’t make sense, but I note you continue to attempt to defend yourself.

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…and here’s a similar tool on its Amazon web page, with “filiare electronique” translated as “corded electric”


With contemporary power tools, it is quite useful to know whether they are corded or cordless.

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Further investigation of the Bosch sanders PBS 750 A and PSB 750 AE seems to show that

1. Bosch (and Amazon) do not offer these tools via their USA websites.

2. From its UK website, Bosch only offers the PBS 750A

3. From its German website, Bosch offers both models.

So, if a UK buyer asks to buy a “non-UK” appliance, they ought not to be deceived into buying it by letting them think it is a UK legal model.

But, if they still want to buy one, i.e. knowing that it will be a “left hand drive model” can they still legally do that?

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I agree with you about electrical goods requiring a standard UK 3-pin plug. However, I find it very irritating when bathroom-type goods, such as shavers and toothbrush chargers, come with a UK shaver plug. Far better is a 2-pin European plug, which fits both UK shaver sockets and European sockets, particularly as these items are used when travelling.

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Shaver sockets will accept both types of two pin plugs, as NFH points out. One problem is that people will overloay shaver sockets by plugging laptops and other products into them.

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I think rechargeable cordless shavers [and toothbrushes] are the modern answer to the problem of what to use in the bathroom.

Duncan – Can you point to where interchanging the 2.5 amp Europlug and the BS 4573 shaver plug are considered dangerous? The pin size and spacing are different but the current involved is small and I assume that arcing or overheating are unlikely. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AC_power_plugs_and_sockets:_British_and_related_types#BS_4573_(UK_shaver)

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It does not seem sensible to use different plugs in shaver sockets but it does seem to work, at least with reasonably modern shaver sockets. I suspect that the earlier shaver sockets were only designed for the BS 4573 shaver plug. I might dismantle a shaver socket and see how the contacts are constructed, but they do seem to hold both sorts of plugs securely.

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I’ll try to remember when I am back home after the Christmas break. Shaver adapters are of very simple construction and I don’t imagine they will hold a Europlug very securely. As John says, rechargeable products remove the need for mains power in bathrooms.

Apart from anything else, shaver units are heavy and can be difficult to fit in stud partition walls and they require quite a bit of excavation to install in brickwork. They also get quite warm. Removing them also gets rid of the potential overloading problem.

If only I had kept the three that I have removed in the last three years I could have done a bit of dismantling to check the tolerances for different types of 2-pin plug. I think some continental 2-pin plugs have slightly angled prongs to ensure a tight fit.

One I fitted yesterday did.

Modern shaver sockets and shaver adapters seem to be designed to accommodate the 2.5 amp Europlug with thin angled pins: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europlug and also flat-bladed two-pin plugs.

Both useful and insightful comments from NFH and duncan.

If we are keen to see the disappearance of High Street shops then shopping online has a lot to recommend it. However as shops provide local employment and a social hub there are reasons why you might want to think again about being couch bound.

One of the reasons how on-line shopping is cheaper than the High St. is the way warehouses are cheaper per sq foot. Add to that the financial inducements offered by Councils giant warehouses and promises of employment and the scales are tipped against your local shop.

Shop local may cost more but at least you may keep your neighbours employed and paying taxes. Call it long-term self-interest rather than short term some money saved.

I suspect your premise is faulty and ignores the changing culture in society with regard to shopping, socialisation and interaction.

Reversing the current trends – Canute-like – is, I suspect, impossible. But I’m not sure that’s necessarily a bad thing. The High street needs to adapt. Food and clothing are items which still work better for the shopper who can hold and feel them, so they’re not that well suited to online buying. Niche shops can also make inroads. In York, for example, there’s the best Christmas shop I know and it’s actually worth going to York simply to wander around the superb collection of hand painted Austrian, Swiss and German baubles and tree ornaments. And it’s air conditioned for the heat waves, of which we’ll be seeing more, if current predictions hold true.

Service facilities can relocate to High streets; we should see more Dentists, Manicurists, drop-in medical centres, permanent blood-transfusion centres, beauty salons, hair dressers and even Tailors. Coffee shops are already enjoying unprecedented growth and it’s possible we’ll start seeing social centres springing up.

In short the High street isn’t dying; it is, however, undergoing a metamorphosis, and the better streets will adapt quickly and enjoy the consequent rewards.

I would agree with you Ian if we could ensure that many of the sheds and warehouses on the ring-roads and by-passes were brought back into town centres so that we could also see and select tech products, domestic appliances, furniture, gardening products, tools, decorating and D-I-Y goods, car parts and spares, etc. This would require municipal and developer cooperation in adapting premises and formats. It would also boost the footfall of those traditional shops that remain as the workers in the returning sectors would become high street customers again.

Overall I agree with Patrick’s comment. I like to have a choice of whether I buy on-line or on the high street, not be forced on-line by default. Coffee shops will certainly decline if the reason to go out shopping disappears – we don’t all need new clothes every week and most people seem happy to abandon the high street for that category now anyway [although the cost of managing returns is starting to cripple that sector already].

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Duncan – that’s interesting. Even though the report seems to be low grade tabloid journalism, I think it still shows that the bosses in Amazon and its subcontractors exploit the use of self-employed subcontractors to minimise both their costs and their liabilities under UK employment law.

In previous convos, we’ve also touched on the poor working conditions of supermarket delivery drivers, so it ought not to be a big surprise for us to learn that working in mail order is just as onerous.

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Excellent report from AFP and perhaps something other countries may consider as a way to reduce the destruction of High Streets and local jobs. The trade-off from cheaper prices on items is more than balanced as the negative effects of local unemployement – and paying benefit and of course a reduced tax-take for the Exchequer to fund it. We who have jobs or income will either pay more or , politicians being keen on re-election, there will be cuts to lots of services.

Amazon is already looking at automising as far as it can it’s warehouses to dispense with the majority of it’s warehouse labour. Ironically the reason why it was given such generous govt/council help was the promise of plenty of low-grade jobs for the local community.

A beggar-thy-neighbour approach to economic aid.

You are right. Having destroyed the competition, established vast highly-automated procurement and warehouse operations, and outsourced its delivery functions to self-employed but undervalued and under-remunerated operatives, Amazon is virtually untouchable now by the laws of commerce. Hardly any other company could now enter the market and make a profit without closely following the same model. Amazon also enjoys a high satisfaction rating and strong following among consumers who – by means of the persuasive marketing messages put out by such companies – have been conditioned to believe that price and speed of delivery are the prime considerations [Prime? . . . possibly], no regard being had for wider societal or community interests.

As another example of unjoined up “planning” all those new universities constructed to meet the aims of 50% higher education and the baby boom bulge are in deep do-do and having to shed staff drastically. The new infrastructure that has been built is beginning to look like expensive white elephants.
Having disbanded apparently all-forms of long term planning and out-sourcing difficult decisions to management consultants it seems that the country has been managed to true incompetence.Thatcher’s decision to open up the Civil Service to businessman and allow people to flit back and forth between the Civil Service and business has really dmaged the former checks and balances where long-term civil servants took the long term view on matters as opposed to career paths that could be aimed at making good conections with businesses associated with your department. And eventual job offers.

The outsourcing of Army recruitment to Crapita has resulted in failure every year since introduction to reach target – varying from 12 to 45% a year. It has also lead to the breakdown of the local associations between the army regiments and its area. An Army lead by donkeys or a Whitehall run by short termist bean counters recruited from or aided the big four accountancy firms.

If one were Machiavellian you might say that rather than mention reducing the size of the Army failure to recruit accomplishes the same end and can be blamed elsewhere. But that would posit some serious intelligence!!

Subsequently read:
” With painful slowness, churches are emerging as secular meeting places. Thirty-five are already listed as post offices, others as bookshops, day centres and pick-up points for online shopping. They are starting to fill gaps left by the departure of other local services. One charity has turned a church in Ipswich into the local psychotherapy centre, an “experience” function that might be said to echo its original one.

A high street is a community working. But government must be hypersensitive to its purpose. These places face an existential crisis. It is unbelievable that Whitehall can bias both taxation and planning decisions against them, in favour of housing. Houses will never build coherent societies without high streets. The issue is the weight democracy attaches to locality as against nationality. As the former House of Representatives speaker Tip O’Neill said, all politics is local. But so is all community.”

What is most unfortunate about the problems facing certain universities is the uncoordinated manner in which the contraction of that sector is being handled. Instead of taking sensible long-term decisions strategically about which institutions should adapt to reduced demand and in which ways, it is being left to the ebb and flow of applications to determine whether a course remains viable and whether the university can continue to employ the right number and calibre of academics to teach those students who remain. The process is bound to be disruptive. The government seems, reluctantly, to think that the high level of tuition fees is a major contributory factor, and it is probably right in that, so is considering a rejig of the system in a brave attempt to fill places. This could be substituting quantity for quality which is what got the sector into the deep doo-doo in the first place. Vocational training at local further and [slightly] higher education colleges, university technical colleges, and apprenticeships are increasingly being seen as good or better ways to enter careers, and employers are becoming disenchanted with the output from some of the lesser universities and the odd and dubiously-academic programmes to which many students are drawn. There may be a better case for deciding that two or three entire universities should either close down or be taken over my better ones every year in a managed programme that would protect students and staff from sudden disruption. The fact that second and third division universities are having to advertise heavily and expensively against each other to attract students indicates a possible priority order for rationalisation.

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I don’t know about having psychic powers, Duncan – but so far as English universities are concerned the high level of fees is probably the major cause of the lower level of applications leading to an unfunded excess of provision. In my opinion the SNP’s policy in Scotland is both wrong and damaging to Scotland’s future. It unjustifiably constrains the country’s intellectual development. It is a crazy funding formula that requires a high number of external students to fund the provision for the internal candidates without regard to demand from suitably qualified applicants. Properly administered the current Scottish system should produce better outcomes than the English system because there should be tougher competition for places, but that leads to a situation whereby good Scottish students are denied places while in England less-qualified applicants, sometimes on less beneficial courses for the national interest, are admitted. The good Scottish students denied a place in their own country can easily get into an English university but their parents [on higher than English tax rates] would have to put up the entire fee at £9,000 a year [I am assuming the student loan facility does not exist in Scotland]. I am in favour of reducing or eliminating student fees for English universities since I think that would restore academic rigour in admissions and competition for places more advantageous to the UK’s requirements. Given that the UK government has recently had to accept the re-categorisation of a significant portion of the aggregate student debt as public expenditure [for the reason that it will never be repaid] the path to such a reform is now clearer.

I’m quite new to Facebook Marketplace but I’ve noticed literally hundreds of ads purporting to offer FREE items, when they clearly aren’t! I’ve seen a towbar fitter locally (and I’m a retired one) offering fittings at £2, £4, occasionally £6…. I was charging £30 an hour if they came to me, 15 years ago!
I’ve also just seen a £9000 catering trailer for sale claiming to be ISO 9001 compliant…. there is no such thing! Trailers have to be eu type approved……

Why are such blatantly false and scam adverts allowed?