/ Shopping, Technology

Ever been sent dodgy electricals by an online shop?

Plugs ordered from Amazon Marketplace

Ever ordered electricals from an online shop only for a different product to arrive? Which? Convo community regular Socketman collaborates with Wavechange and Scott on this counterfeit electricals debate.

Wavechange, Scott and I are increasingly concerned about substandard and counterfeit small electrical goods. We’ve been debating this on the two-pin plugs debate here on Which? Conversation.

Among the items known to cause problems are phone and laptop chargers, power leads, and travel adaptors.

Failure of any of these items can lead to electrical fires and/or electrocution.

Many of us buy these items online, and we typically head for Amazon or eBay, but can you always be sure what you’re buying? I take a look at customer reviews to judge items, but do you know that you’ll be sent the same thing? And what happens if there are multiple sellers offering the same product on a single Amazon listing? Does it make sense to choose the seller with the lowest price? After all, they’re all selling the same product… or are they?

My test purchase

I recently carried out a test purchase, placing nine separate orders for the same product on Amazon Marketplace. The product shown in the listing was an adaptor to allow a German Schuko plug to be used in a British socket. Any adaptor for use in a British socket is subject to the Plugs and Sockets Regulations and must conform to British Standard 1363, such as including a fuse. The adaptor shown in the listing was clearly marked as BS 1363, and was shown with a fuseholder. The Schuko plug is earthed via side clips in a recessed socket, so the adapter has to match it.

Of the adaptors that were sent to me, only one was the product illustrated, another was a similar, not identical, fused Schuko to BS 1363 adaptor from a different manufacturer. A third seller sent a two-pin shaver adaptor, no earth and only suitable for low currents. The other six sellers supplied one of three different types of fused adaptor which would accept a variety of European and American plugs, but none of which had recesses, and therefore couldn’t make proper connection to a Schuko plug. And two of the three types didn’t comply with BS 1363.

When I complained a number of suppliers promised replacements, but only two sent them, one of which was a shaver adaptor, and the other just sent the same incorrect product. Of course, none of these were actually sold by Amazon, although the two Schuko adaptors were ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in that they were held in Amazon warehouses.

Two of the products arrived in unmarked packaging, and one of those was a plain paper envelope! And it’s not just adaptors; I’ve had a similar experience with power leads and chargers.

Knowing what you’re buying

Careful analysis of Amazon customer reviews often reveals that very different products are being described, but many of us just look at the number of stars a product has rather than reading between the lines. And when you stop to think, although most of us are capable of giving a sound opinion on a book, how many of us is qualified to comment on the safety of an electrical accessory?

Would it help if Amazon always made clear the manufacturer and model number so that you could check that against what you get? Should there be a minimum standard of product illustration so that you’re always clear about what’s being sold? Should Amazon take action against suppliers who substitute different products?

This is a guest post from Which? Convo community members Socketman, Wavechange and Scott. All opinions expressed here are their own, not necessarily those of Which?.

Comments
Member

A very useful piece of research.

Also available from Amazon or Ebay are poor replacement elements for Dualit toasters which are cheap Chinese knock-offs with very skinny wires,

I suspect that Amazon and EBay have not the slightesst interest in the legality or dangerous quality of what they facilitate in selling. Perhaps we need to look at what liabilty should be attached to them or any other shop that “sells” franchise space in their domain.

Member

In order to save a few pennies some people will continue to buy these dodgy electrical items from online multinationals who use tax avoidance loopholes by trading through other countries such as Luxembourg, depriving the UK of valuable business tax revenues and threatening the closure of more and more of our small high street stores.

The answer is simple, don’t scrimp on potentially dangerous electrical goods – Boycott Them!

Member

Beryl, leaving aside the tax issues, which I agree should be properly addressed by our government, I think that what we need is for online stores to be forced to behave responsibly. They can and do provide access to goods at reasonable prices which might not otherwise be easily available, and that is not something we should have to give up.

The Schuko adaptor which is the subject of the test purchase is not something easily obtainable on the high street. Staying on the subject of plug adaptors, it is a fact that many of those sold by such reputable shops as John Lewis and Boots do not comply with the standards! This is especially true of the universal types, all of which accept Schuko (German) plugs, but none provide an earth contact for Schuko.

Member

I wholeheartedly agree tax issues should be addressed by governmental bodies but it is also important to look at the big picture. These digital multinational companies are well able to produce goods at very low prices simply because of their tax avoidance policies which may be legal (in some countries) but wholly unethical depriving the UK of valuable revenue that could be put to good use by helping to fund our public services, NHS education etc.

Monopolistic practice can also procure dominance over prices and supplies, leaving high street stores who pay their fair share of corporation tax unable to compete and subsequently go into liquidation. If governments are unable (or unwilling to address this unfair “legal” practice it is up to the consumer to exercise their influence by boycotting these companies.

Member
Scott says:
21 August 2014

Beryl – Unfortunately, I don’t believe the situation is quite as simple as you make out. One of the purposes of the EU is to allow freedom of movement of goods and to allow companies to trade across the EU without unnecessary restrictions. A company has to be registered somewhere. Are you seriously suggesting that citizens of the other 27 member states should boycott British companies because they are paying tax to the UK Government? Or maybe you are suggesting that companies should be forced to register a subsidiary in each of the territories in which it trades? This would create a huge rise in administration and compliance costs, no doubt to the benefit of the accountants, but would defeat the whole point of the single market and freedom of movement of goods.

Member

Scott – I tink you are perhaps missing the point that Eire and Luxembourg are leaching off the EU by deliberately low tax rates for the likes of Amazon and Google. It is because of their size that these corporations can game the EU’s various countries tax codes.

And of course US corporaations tend to hold billions of profits off-shore until such time as ythe US goverment gives them a tax amnesty. From Bloomberg:
“The largest U.S.-based companies added $206 billion to their stockpiles of offshore profits last year, parking earnings in low-tax countries until Congress gives them a reason not to.
The multinational companies have accumulated $1.95 trillion outside the U.S., up 11.8 percent from a year earlier, according to securities filings from 307 corporations reviewed by Bloomberg News.”

And there are any number of US states and cities where the tax on that $1.95 trillion could be very useful. However much of the cash pile will go to buying companies in the UK to maximise further tax advantages.

I think there is a difference between legal and advisable and perhaps it is best this gets sorted out pre any TTIP agreements which allow corporations to sue national governments. I am not quite sure BTW how Whch? can say it supports TTIP – as a member I have never been asked and I have never ever seen it discussed anywhere in Which?

Member

Amazon, eBay and suchlike should take responsibility for products that they promote through their websites – presumably they have some financial interest. If they do not delist such products then can legal action be taken against them for assisting the sale of products that do not meet EU safety directives? Is the law not adequate? Or do we not choose to apply it? I’m sure it’s not that simple, but Which?, what can you do with your European partners to address this problem?

Member

Malcolm: For a more unbiased opinion which may go some way to answer some of your questions there is an interesting article in The Guardian.

Member

Beryl, not sure this answered any of my questions! I cannot blame Amazon for arranging to minimise tax in ways that are legal – even though it is wrong that it is allowable. It is up to our government, and the EU, to set the tax framework to stop this kind of avoidance, and to withstand US pressure that seeks to perpetuate it. Proposed a year ago – how long will it take?
A distributor in the EU who markets goods within the EU must ensure they comply with any applicable EU safety standards, generally covered by compliance with CE marking regulations. Without wishing to start a debate about difficulties of CE enforcement, it seems to me that Amazon facilitate distribution of defective goods, and should be held responsibe, as any other distributor should be.

Member

Malcolm, worth noting that plugs and sockets for domestic and similar use are the subject of national regulations throughout the EU and therefore excluded from CE marking, they specifically must NOT be marked CE! The same thing applies to adaptors of the sort that is the subject of this test purchase. Interestingly, what the EU describes as “multiple travel adaptors”, more normally known as universal travel adaptors, are within the scheme, but as far as I know there is no standard for such things, so hard to know what a CE mark means on them.

Member

socketman, yes, I understand the problems with plugs – I was generalising on Amazon’s responsibility! There may be generic safety standards that can be cited to cover some electrical devices. Those that are electrically unsafe – inadequate creepage and clearances for wiring, not adequate for the current capacity, not correctly earthed for example, present general safety problems and liability for them should still rest with the distributor. I guess the problem at present lies with Trading standards not having the resources or the coordination to deal with this. It would be a shame if only a fatality prompted action.

Member

Some years ago the charger failed on an old Apple Powerbook laptop that I had kept for occasional use of old software that is incompatible with more recent computers. I decided to avoid the many unbranded chargers available online, on the basis that they could be dangerous counterfeit goods.

I purchased a charger via eBay, choosing one described as an Apple product and with a photo of the genuine item, from a trader with an excellent reputation. What arrived was marked ‘Replacement AC Adapter’, very obviously different from the photo. Unlike genuine Apple products, there was no fuse in the clip-on mains plug provided with this charger. It was a simple matter to attach a genuine Apple plug but I had no way of knowing if the charger itself was safe to use.

Many of the reviews on Amazon for supposedly genuine chargers for Apple laptops (MacBook or MacBook Pro) include comments suggesting they are not genuine products. The reason that there are so many unbranded and possibly dangerous chargers for Apple laptops and phones because the genuine items are very expensive. Dieseltaylor has given a similar example of a replacement element for a Dualit toaster, where the genuine item is very expensive. In that case he was able to see that the non-genuine product was substandard, but it is impossible to tell know with a laptop or phone charger in a sealed plastic case.

I am happy to use eBay and Amazon for many products and have had excellent service but I have no intention of buying any more small electrical items from these sources.

Member

I wouldn’t trust anything electrical from ebay.

A few years ago, I needed a new Nikon ION battery. Looking on ebay I found someone selling genuiune Nikon ION batteries.

Then I looked at the photo and there was a picture of the genuine Nikon IOM battery !!!

Needless to say, I went to a local camera shop and purchased a genuine one.

Member

Amazon need to get their reviews sorted out.

Any reviews listed under a product should be for that product only.

I was looking at BenQ XL2720Z monitor reviews recently and the 76 reviews are for loads of different monitors.

Member

All this convo has done is prove that I’m right to avoid amazon marketplace, ebay and now play.

It’s too easy for fraudsters to ply their trade. 🙁

Member
Martin says:
19 August 2014

The list is endless. Mobile phone accessories seem particularly prone to counterfeiting, but I’ve bought a few products that were advertised as genuine looked genuine, but were fake. Usually if the price looks to good to be true ….. And if you suspect it’s counterfeit and you buy, you’re only storing up inconvenience when it doesn’t work as it should or danger especially with electrical goods. The trouble is that the genuine article seems to be soooooo expensive and the original equipment manufacturer is soooooooooo greedy with pricing that it’s often only the counterfeit that’s affordable to many – or seems so.

Member

I have been looking through reviews for travel adaptors sold by Amazon and there are numerous comments that give cause for concern about the build quality and safety. Here is an example relating to an adaptor to allow a UK plug to be connected to a Schuko socket (as used in Germany, for example):

“A nightmare to get into the socket as the 3rd pin in the UK plugs hardly fits in the adaptor.
A pin fell out of one while trying to put it in the socket
Worst of all one caught fire in the socket!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now i have my kettle plug welded into the adaptor and one very burnt out socket!!!!”

It is clear that the adapter has not been made to conform to the pin size and spacing of a UK (BS 1363) plug and that it was totally inadequate to carry the current, resulting in severe overheating. I suspect that the purchaser did not pay attention to the fact that the product description makes it clear that the maximum rating is 7.5 amps, assuming that this information was there when they bought the product. This would be adequate for a travel kettle but not a full-size kettle.

It would be useful if Amazon, eBay and other online traders gave some guidance to help us choose products that are both safe and suitable for what we want to use them for. They should provide a way of reporting products that appear to be dangerous, for example due to overheating or coming apart and exposing live parts, or because it is obvious to an experienced person that there is a fault in the design.

There should be a code of practice that requires suppliers to make it very clear if there are any potential hazards, for example that a particular adaptor must not be used with appliances that require an earth connection. In some cases, neither the product description or photos give this essential information.

Member

I have been following the previous Conversations on travel adaptors with great interest and am glad this Conversation has come along to widen out the discussion to include other defective and non-compliant electrical products sold through websites. As I have mentioned elsewhere I was recently looking to see what was available in outdoor security floodlights and was surprised to see that Amazon were quite happily displaying customer reviews warning intending purchasers that certain products had unconnected earth conductors and yet continuing to market the products. Those particular products are potentially lethal. Customers only discovered the defects when they opened the units to replace the connecting cable with a longer one and found that the earth conductor was not attached in any way to the metal body so there was no earth continuity and therefore no protection. Hundreds, possibly even thousands, of customers have probably installed these lights with no idea that they are extremely hazardous. Obviously, the presence of cautionary reviews is a sort of safeguard but not everyone will spot the warnings buried in miles of text. Electrical products should, so far as possible, be foolproof; the safety feature is the earth conductor, not a customer’s review.

To my mind it a matter of great urgency for the government to make umbrella retailers who are providing an outlet for sellers we would never otherwise know about responsible for the safety and compliance of the products they put on the market. I am astonished that they consider it is not commercially adverse to be associated with some of the suspect merchandise being marketed under their auspices and to attract a bad reputation for dealing in shoddy goods. Marketplace? – More like a dodgy car-boot sale

Member

A quick search based on what John has posted turned up an example of a potentially dangerous LED floodlight currently sold by an Amazon Marketplace trader based in the UK. Hopefully Which? will allow me to post a link: http://www.amazon.co.uk/OXLUX®-10W-Floodlight-Cool-White/dp/B004QZJVHI/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

From the reviews (and comments on these reviews where included) of this product, it is evident that some of the floodlights do not have an earth connection. Reviewers who appreciate the danger have warned prospective purchasers, and here is one of the reviews, from January 2013: The lights I got had no earth connection at all. They have a metal case, so this is potentially lethal. Also illegal to sell them.
They are claimed to be CE marked – clearly they aren’t.
There seems to be 3-4 different variants, with different internal electronics. Some have just 2 wires in, some have 3 but with the earth wire not connected to anything, some have a connection to earth

I suppose that we should be grateful that Amazon is not deleting unfavourable reviews.

How many fatalities are needed before the government takes action over the widespread sale of dangerous goods by well respected online retailers? In the example I have given, the problem was evident from a review posted more than two years ago.

Member

Here is an update on the test purchase.

I ordered from two further sellers, making a total of 11 orders for what should have been the same product. One of the newer orders resulted in the supply of the illustrated product (an adaptor for a British socket to accept German Schuko plugs), so the 11 orders have produced 3 correct products.

The other new order produced yet another shaver adaptor! The latter, from seller BluelC, was interesting as it was the identical shaver adaptor, and clearly from the same source, as the one I received from seller Bargain HunterZ. Both were contained in identical plain white paper envelopes, the only protection being an identically formed tube of recycled card wrapped around each adaptor. In neither case was there any indication of the identity of the sender, either inside or outside of the envelope, but as each delivery followed the respective orders they were easy to identify.

The latest arrival is one of the promised replacements for an incorrect product, this seller, Home Star Supplies, had already tried one replacement (a shaver adaptor) and this time sent a Schuko plug to British socket adaptor (right types, but the wrong way round!) They have promised yet another.

These experiences demonstrate how most of these sellers have not the slightest idea of what they are offering to supply. That raises another question: Is it right to allow products which require a high degree of safety to be sold by back-street or home-based sellers with no technical qualification or understanding of the products or regulations?

Member

I absolutely agree. Some time ago I asked Amazon about how it made sure that its Marketplace traders were selling safe goods but did not receive a useful response. I have posted an email exchange with Amazon below.

Most of us would be wary of dealing with companies we have never heard of, but the Amazon brand somehow engenders trust, helped by Amazon’s refund policy. I would be more impressed if Amazon would take some responsibility for companies selling goods that could be dangerous.

Member

Wavechange it seems to me you have been censored. I cannot see anything with Amazon. I assume that Whch? does have a clickthrough arrangement with Amazon which may be a problem.

Member

The post is waiting for approval. I deleted two of the links in Amazon’s reply but accidentally left one in. I imagine that our Conversation Editors are allowed Sunday afternoons off, so it might appear tomorrow morning. 🙂

Member
Scott says:
24 August 2014

Despite being one of its ‘sponsors’ I have not contributed much to this Conversation, partly due to being busy but mainly because I agree with pretty much all that has been said. I appreciate we chose to focus on on-line purchases, but I would add that I visited the UK’s largest DIY chain today and saw an adaptor for UK use abroad that had no side earth. I note there was reference to instructions within, which may or may not say the adaptor should only be used for appliances not requiring an earth connection, but the facts remain (a) people generally do not read instructions and (b) it is possible to connect an item that ought to be earthed without connecting the earth. If these regulations are indeed devolved to member states, then we in the UK need some new regulations.

Member

This begs the question of why the manufacturer should be producing an adaptor without an earth connection. It’s an accident waiting to happen.

We go to great lengths with some aspects of safety but ignore some important issues.

Member

Wavechange, I think you’ll find that most of these dodgy adapters are made in the far east for virtually no cost, they won’t care how they’re made as long as they get paid, and as long as dodgy marketplace sellers buy them to sell at a huge profit, it will continue.

Member

I agree and like you, I do not buy electrical goods from Amazon or eBay. Unfortunately, many don’t realise the problem and you will find some five star reviews on Amazon for products that others have identified as potentially dangerous. It’s great that Which? has facilitated this Conversation but I think we need their help to tackle the problem.

Member
Scott says:
25 August 2014

I agree there is a need to be cautious, but I have had good experiences as well I wanted a two pin charger for my phone to use in Denmark. I saw one at Kastrup Airport (Copenhagen) for about £35. I searched on-line and found one for about £8. I examined it carefully on receipt and I am convinced it was genuine. The markings, build quality, colour etc looked identical to the original UK charger. The same applied to my new phone. Because of the Plugs and Sockets Regulations it seems to be impossible to buy a two pin charger in the shops, but I got one on-line and again I am satisfied it is genuine. Maybe we need to look at allowing two pin chargers to be sold as accessories for use by travellers.

Member

> Because of the Plugs and Sockets Regulations it seems to be impossible to buy a two pin charger in the shops <

That may or may not be the case, but I have a Kensington Notebook Power Adapter from John Lewis that comes with both a UK and a Euro AC power lead.

Oddly enought I needed an unearthed power adapter to use instead of the original earthed Sony power adapter, to prevent earth loop problems affecting the sound output. Sometimes earthed equipment simply cannot be used for all the potential (no pun intended) safety benefits.

I also bought a Garmin GPS travel kit from Halfords, which has a USB power module that has three interchangable plug packs, UK, Euro and US.

As both of these have the required Euro plug and USB outputs, I don't need a phone charger as well when travelling on the continent.

Member
Scott says:
29 August 2014

Indeed, I was overlooking the ‘travel’ products that include different plug options. Apple sell a travel adaptor with interchangeable plugs, which I do use abroad.

Member

Em – It concerns me when I hear about people removing earths. 🙁 Some musicians have died as a result of this being done by themselves or others to avoid problems with mains hum with their sound systems. From what you have posted in the past, it’s very evident that you know what you are doing, but I wonder if there is a design fault with your equipment.

Scott poses an interesting challenge. I’m not keen to have Europlugs in the UK because of the risk of people plugging them into mains sockets. I used to find overseas students do this, and it’s a dangerous thing to do. Having said that, I can understand the problem for travellers.

Member

Wavechange – I hope there isn’t a problem with this arrangement!!! I’m certainly aware of musicans who have killed themselves by disconnecting earth leads or through other faults. It’s one reason I always try to use wireless handheld mics, especially when working outdoors.

There is no way I would run unearthed active speakers, and it’s not actually mains hum, but noise from the laptop’s switched mode power supply that varies according to the state of the battery charge. Sonys are quite bad in this respect, apparently.

The noise only becomes apparent when the earthed speakers are attached to the earthed laptop, via either the inbuilt sound card mini-jack, or an external USB sound card with XLR outputs.

I’ve tried a really expensive professional DI box with ground lift to try and isolate the laptop and speakers – it doesn’t always work depending on the config and, I think, the mains wiring.

My Sony laptop comes with an earthed power adapter in the UK. In many regions, the same laptop adapter is supplied with a two pin (unearthed) plug lead, but I wasn’t even going to risk detaching the earth, as the equipment may be touched by members of the public and it would probably invalidate my public liability insurance to make such a mod myself. Hence the reputable Kensington OEM unearthed power supply bought from a reputable retailer.

All the equipment has now been PAT tested several times by a very thorough guy and I think he would have picked up on any issues. And I always use my own RCD protected power strip, unless the venue has a protected socket outlet with RCD.

You are certainly right to raise this as a concern to anyone reading this thread, but I trust the only message needed is the old Blue Peter warning: “Don’t try this at home!”.

Member

On your other point about (not) allowing the import of Europlugs into the UK, I think we’ve got to accept it is not just some members of the British public that need protecting from their own stupidity, but the millions of visitors who now travel to the UK every year.

We really can’t expect to confiscate travellers’ Europlugs at the border and many of them will not be familiar with UK wiring. So maybe it is time we thought about safer systems, particularly in places like hotels and offices where foreign electrical equipment is more likely to be used.

One innovation is the mains wall plate with an integrated USB outlet, where most people these days can recharge their phone. But why not wall plates that can also accept Europlugs or US plugs, perhaps using a dedicated fused socket just above or below the rectangular shuttered outlet? I can’t believe the cost would be prohibitive, as this type of universal outlet is already to be found in places like India – although minus the shutters and with a poor contact surface area due to the convoluted pin configurations that have all been crammed into a single outlet.

Member

Em, please see http://www.universalsocket.org.uk for a list of the reasons why Universal Sockets are a thoroughly bad idea, and illegal in the UK.

The installation of a dedicated US socket or European socket would not comply with the wiring regulations.

Member

Thanks socketman.

Just to clarify, I wasn’t advoctating the use of a single universal socket outlet for the reasons given in your link, but a wall plate that accepts a range of common plugs where the necessary safety features and voltage 🙂 for each can be properly implemented. Perhaps I got a bit carried away in my thinking. But just a Europlug would be a start.

I only mention this because sometimes the “British system is best and we won’t accept any compromises” seems to cause occasional safety issues of its own in non-domestic premises. I see damaged outlets at work where someone has tried to force in a plug, perhaps jamming the shutters open or a paperclip left behind to open them via the earth. I’m sure if we could identify these people they would be disciplined, but it won’t stop it happening again. And electrical fires don’t discriminate between those who conform to BS 1363 and those who don’t. Just something for debate.

And congratulations on having your own Convo (with assistance from the usual suspects).

Member

Em, you make very good points, but what would the socket be? There is no standard for a dedicated socket for the Europlug, only the various European sockets which accept Europlugs, so would we use a Schuko 16A socket, or create a new standard?

Member

A UK ring circuit is protected with a 32A circuit breaker or 30A fuse, so a Schuko socket would need to incorporate local protection or be on its own circuit.

Member

Em – On the matter of laptop power supplies and earths, I have sometimes been asked about the problem of hum when used with external audio equipment. Usually I have suggested using the laptop on battery power and that’s much easier than it used to be thanks to better batteries. If audio is all that’s needed then turning off the display greatly increases battery life.

The power supplies for with Apple laptops are supplied with both a clip on fused ‘plug’ for a UK socket and a lead with a clip on connector at one end and a moulded UK plug at the other end. Only one of these (the lead) provides an earth connection to the metal stud on the power supply. I do not understand the rationale but since all recent Apple laptops are metal-cased, I do wonder about this.

Member

Again, I’ve kind of overlooked the fact that there is no standard for a Europlug socket. Bizarre!

Member

The real problem with the Europlug is that it does not follow good design practice for plugs and sockets. The normal approach is to design a plug which is suitable for the proposed ratings, and for which the pin dimensions and spacings are precisely defined. A socket is then designed to mate with that plug in a way which provides good solid contact with the plug pins, holds the plug securely in place, and provides safety measures to ensure that all live parts are beyond the reach of fingers and foreign bodies (pins and screwdrivers etc). The Europlug is not the basis for a system, but a compromise which will fit to a greater or lesser extent into several incompatible sockets. The Europlug pins are defined as 4 mm in diameter, but they are intended to fit into sockets which have been designed to hold pins between 4mm and 4.8mm, thus they often do not make secure contact. In an effort to improve on this, the pins of the Europlug are placed in a way that the tips converge, this is a way to achieve a little more “grip” in the socket, it is only partially successful and is why Europlugs tend to fall out of many sockets which were not designed to accept less than 4.8mm pins.

The Europlug also has a fundamental design flaw in that it is required that the maximum diameter of the insulated part of the pin is 3.8mm, this means that there is always a shoulder at the transition from the insulated to the conducting part of the pin, this causes unnecessary wear on the socket contact during withdrawal and can also make it quite difficult to withdraw as it interferes with the interior face of the socket. It is a truly bad piece of design, and it is MANDATED by the standard!

Member

These are really interesting points, Socketman, and I had never given any thought to the wear issue. With portable items, some plugs will be inserted very frequently.

What I would like to know is why it is considered acceptable to use a Europlug in a 16A Schuko socket? In view of the points you have made, perhaps the nominal rating of 2.5A is reasonable and using these plugs on a 16A supply is poor practice.

Member

I do not know why some countries consider that acceptable. The time taken to for the breaker of fuse to operate in the event of an overcurrent situation depends on the amount of current flowing. A fault condition resulting in a current double the rating would cause a 16A breaker to operate after about one minute.

Consider a two-pin Europlug rated at 2.5A, with an attached flexible cord normally rated at 3A, the fault current of 32A would flow for about a minute before operation of the breaker, during which time the 3A cable could burst into flames. The same cable attached to a UK plug is protected by a 3A fuse in the plug, at 32A that fuse would blow in a couple of hundredths of a second. I know which I prefer.

Member

That’s my concern about Shuko and similar sockets for low power electrical items.

Now consider an electric shaver with a lightweight, highly flexible cable plugged into a Schuko socket with a Europlug. There is very little cross sectional area in the conductors, which need to carry a low current under normal operating conditions. Hopefully these products contain internal fusing to protect the shaver from bursting into flames if there is a short circuit, but there is no way that there is sufficient protection for the lead. In the UK we have shaver adaptors with 1A fuses and bathroom shaver points that provide overcurrent protection.

Member

What are you actually typing into the amazon search bar ?

Member

In January 2013 I ordered an electrical product from the Amazon website and it was supplied by one of the large Marketplace traders. Here is an email I sent to Amazon:

I have recently purchased an item via Amazon and suspect that it may be unsafe. This was reported to Trading Standards and I have contacted the seller to report my concerns.

What concerns me is that even if I receive a refund, the trader may carry on selling a defective product.

I am keen to know what procedures Amazon uses to ensure that companies trading via your website do not sell unsafe, illegal or counterfeit goods. I have not been able to find advice on how to report such concerns on your website. I trust the Amazon name but I have read some information online that suggests some of the companies trading via Amazon might not be operating legally or professionally.

I have no idea whether or not Amazon reads all correspondence with companies or would like customers to report concerns about unsafe, illegal or counterfeit goods.

Regards
…………

Here is the reply I received:

Hello,

Thank you for contacting Amazon.co.uk.

I understand from your recent e-mail that you have some concerns about a seller on the Amazon.co.uk. Marketplace selling unsafe goods.

Having looked at your account I have found that you have contacted the seller, “……..” regarding an order you recently received from them for “…………”, advising them of your concerns.

There are millions of items on the Amazon.co.uk website, and we have filters in place to ensure that only items that may legally be offered for sale are listed. Occasionally a particular product listing may go unnoticed by our filters and a product we don’t support may then be listed on our website.

We’ll investigate the listing you’ve brought to our attention and will take appropriate action.

I hope this helps. We look forward to seeing you again soon.

Did I solve your problem?

If yes, please click here:
(link removed)

If no, please click here:
(link removed)

To contact us about an unrelated issue, please visit the Help section of our website: http://www.amazon.co.uk/help

Warmest regards,

…………..
Amazon.co.uk
Your feedback is helping us build Earth’s Most Customer-Centric Company.

I did not hear any more from Amazon. The product is still on sale and my negative review is still there.

Member

Excellent stuff socketman. You make me proud that even ” amateurs” can add substance to consumer matters.

I have been long term testing commercial dishwasher and washing machine powders on a cost basis given the large sector of the public who are being squeezed on pay and rising costs.

Unforunately I am not equipped to do optical cleanliness, or hygienic cleanliness testing of clothes.
However both powders seem to be delivering the goods at rock-bottom prices. I have a hypothesis that if you buy a good machine the actual powder used is not hugely significant factor.

If you want to publish any of this can I recommend Wikia as a way to get your efforts more widely discussed beyond Conversations.

Member

Last week I provided an update on the test purchase, here is the latest.

Home Star Supplies had promised yet another replacement for the incorrect Eurosonics universal adaptor which they originally delivered at the beginning of June, and which they then replaced with a shaver adaptor, and then a Schuko plug to British socket adaptor (right types, but the wrong way round!)

I have just received their latest effort, another Eurosonics universal adaptor!

Three months, four deliveries from this supplier, and I still await the correct item from them. And that is just one of the eleven orders I placed, only three of which have managed to supply the correct item.

Member

http://www.universalsocket.org.uk/

Thanks for the warning socketman – it is a scary read. This makes me even keener that there be a CAWiki letting members easily find these excellent sites. And even give a basic outline.

The reason for CaWiki or Whichopedia being that it unlike Wikipedia it would be monitored for only safe linnks and reviewed. It should not seek to distract from the originating website though.

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Here is the latest update. CKONE is the one of the suppliers who originally sent me an adaptor with a universal socket which had no recess for a Schuko. On 29th June they promised to send me a replacement. After several chasers they have finally sent something, more than two months later!

BUT, it is a Schuko plug to British socket adaptor, right types, but the wrong way round! (Incidentally, the same model that another supplier sent as a replacement a couple of weeks ago.)

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Today CKONE has asked for photographs of what the have sent to me! This is a common request, I am not sure if it means they have no idea of what they are actually shipping, or it is simply a delaying tactic?

Meanwhile today has brought fourth yet another wrong replacement from Home Star Supplies. they originally supplied a Eurosonics universal adaptor at the beginning of June, replaced it with a shaver adaptor, and then a Schuko plug to British socket adaptor (right types, but the wrong way round!) then last week another Eurosonics universal adaptor. And today, yet another Eurosonics universal adaptor!!!!! I have to give them a point for trying, but five wrong attempts does seem excessive?

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It’s starting to look like someone is buying in cheap stock and selling for a profit without actually having any knowledge or understanding of the products they’re passing on.

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I found that I had a travel adaptor of the type that Socketman ordered for his test purchase. It was supplied with an expensive inverter (a device that converts 12V DC to 230V AC) that I bought about 20 years ago.

It seems fit for its purpose except that the pins unscrew easily, so overheating could occur. That seems very poor design and I wonder if this problem occurs with other travel adaptors.

Member

Time for a review of the test buy I think!
If you want to see the product offer, you will find it here:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/B0039K5XNC/
Although the illustration shows only the plug side of the adaptor, the shape of the other side clearly identifies it as having a proper Schuko (German) socket at the other end. The adaptor shown is at top left of the photo at the top of this article.

The description of the product is “European to UK Adapter EU to UK Plug Adaptor” which is both repetitive and imprecise as “European” and “EU” do not actually describe any particular plug. The adaptor is described as being by ‘Auna’, but Auna is a company that makes domestic audio equipment, not plugs or adaptors. The adaptor illustrated actually has no indication of the manufacturer which makes it illegal under the terms of the UK Plugs and Sockets regulations.

I ordered from eleven of the suppliers who offered this product, here are the full results:

‘DJ2GO Limited’ are the only supplier to have actually provided the illustrated product, it was despatched under the “Fulfilled by Amazon” scheme whereby Amazon holds stock belonging to the seller, and ships from an Amazon warehouse. DJ2GO subsequently changed their offer from “Fulfilled by Amazon” to shipping themselves, so I ordered from them again to check. This time I got a branded product, the PMS 9680, which is functionally identical to the illustrated product (it is the one shown at top centre of the photo).

‘Happiness At Home’ also used the “Fulfilled by Amazon” scheme and they delivered the functionally identical PMS 9680.

(Note, the remaining suppliers all used direct delivery.)

‘GVC digital Ltd’ delivered the functionally identical PMS 9680.

(Note, the following suppliers all supplied the wrong product.)

‘BlueICe’ and ‘Bargain HunterZ’ were quite clearly different names for the same supplier. Both supplied PMS shaver adaptors (bottom right of the photo) in identical plain paper envelopes, with the only packing protection being a distinctively folded tube cut from used card. Refunds promptly issued. Bargain HunterZ are still offering the product.

‘Premier Life Store’ supplied an Omega 21106 (bottom right of the photo) and in response to my complaint sent another identical adaptor! The Omega 21106 has a flat universal socket with no earthing for Schuko plugs – which is very dangerous, when I pointed this out to them they replied “Please note that the plug sent is of same volt with a fuse of 13A, although the design is slightly different but, it is exactly same.”!

‘ShaniTech’ supplied a similar adaptor, then made a prompt refund. However, they are still listed as a supplier.

‘TheBigShip’ supplied a similar adaptor, packaged as ‘PowerPlus’, refunded.

‘Bargain Price Ltd’ supplied a similar adaptor, Eurosonic model ES988 (bottom centre of the photo), refunded.

‘CKONE’ also supplied a Eurosonic, replaced that with a Shuko to BS 1363 (the opposite of the adaptor advertised) then sent another Eurosonic! I gave up in disgust, but they are still listed as a supplier.

‘Home Star Supplies Ltd’ supplied an unpackaged Eurosonic type, then tried a DETA shaver adaptor, then a Shuko to BS 1363 (the opposite of the adaptor advertised) Then another Eurosonic! As with CKONE, I gave up in disgust, but they are also still listed as a supplier.

I think my test buy proves that buying from Amazon Marketplace is not a commercial transaction, but a game of chance. I have had similar experiences when buying power leads and chargers from them, analysis of customer reviews often reveals that people are describing quite different products – but there is no way for you to tell which supplier supplied the product offered, even if there is only a single supplier listed you do not know if it was the same one who supplied previously. It is also worth noting that not one supplier of an incorrect product was able to supply the correct product!

This cavalier approach could result in serious accidents, even death! I would like to have left suitable comments in the reviews for these products, but although Amazon remain happy to accept my business, they have blocked me as a reviewer for several years – my reviews and comments were too truthful for them.

Member

I might be wrong, but customer reviews and the lack of are covered by the Advertising Standard Authority’s CAP code. Advertisers have to paint a truthful picture of a product, including allowing all genuine reviews. If an advertiser picks and chooses the reviews they like, and blocks ones they don’t want to appear, that goes against the CAP code and the reviewer can make a formal complaint to ASA.

Failing that, you could try complaining to Trading Standards, but it would probably have to be an official Which complaint to get somewhere.

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“Careful analysis of Amazon customer reviews often reveals that very different products are being described”

The grouping together of customer reviews for very different products is also something you can complain to ASA about, if it’s misleading enough.

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SW, Following your suggestion I did raise a complaint with ASA but, after a back and forth communication, they have rejected it as being outside their remit.

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Following a suggestion from Socketman, I ordered an adaptor and what I received was different from the product illustrated on the Amazon website. It looks like the bottom centre one in the introduction and is described as a ‘EUROSONIC UK Tourist Adapter’. According to the packaging, it conforms with BS5733 and is fused. I can see no fuse holder, whereas the product information on the Amazon website clearly shows a red fuse holder.

It is high time that Amazon takes responsibility for what its Marketplace traders, especially when there are safety issues – as Socketman has highlighted in the introduction.

Member

I tried to post a review about my purchase to alert others to the fact that they might not receive the product that they had ordered. Socketman had warned me not to post a link because that would infringe the T&Cs of Amazon, but I gave information that would enable readers to find this Conversation. The review was not published, nor was a second attempt.

I initiated the return procedure and was asked by the Marketplace trader (CKONE) to send photos as evidence that I had been sent the wrong product, which I did. CKONE offered me a refund or 30% refund. I have replied saying that I would like the item advertised or failing that, a full refund.

I made the following constructive comments in my response to CKONE, but they elicited no response, and a subsequent request for a response has been ignored:

“Amazon should have provided a clear description of the product, specifying which EU plug(s) the adaptor will accept and there should be a photo showing the other side of the adaptor. That would help both the Marketplace traders fulfilling orders and potential customers. There’s also the safety issues of users forcing plugs into the wrong kind of adaptor and using adaptors that don’t provide an earth connection with appliances that need one.”

As I see it, the Amazon Marketplace system uses Amazon’s respected name to encourage us to purchase from unheard of companies that we might not otherwise think of using. It is a clever strategy but it appears that Amazon does not care much about safety issues.

In 2013, I purchased an item that I considered potentially unsafe, neither Amazon or the Marketplace trader payed any attention to my concerns. Having my comments disregarded is nothing new to me.

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Wavechange do you have a twiitter account? If you do post a negative comment against that and I suspect Amazon will soon wake up.

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Thanks William. I don’t have a Twitter account but I am well aware that some of our Conversation regulars are using it. One of the reasons that I have avoided Twitter is because of reports that users suffer junk email. I’m happy to give it a go if that can be controlled by adjusting the settings.

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I get something like 1 or 2 emails a week from twitter, which just get the delete treatment.

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wavechange, have you received a refund or been refused one?

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I will put it in the post today. I have not been refused a refund.

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Instead of returning it, what if you did an ASA complaint? That would change the product page. But you’d have to send it to ASA when they asked to see it, or upload a photo of it in their complaint form.

Member

A further update. A supplier called ‘only the best deals 4u’ was briefly listed, they sent me a PMS 9990 adaptor, this is one of those which has a universal socket and does not earth a Shuko.

Here is the ensuing conversation, carried on through the appropriate Amazon system:

Me: “Wrong product delivered. The advertised product picture shows an adaptor with a recessed socket which will accept and properly earth a Schuko plug. The item received is an adaptor (PMS 9990) which accepts a variety of different plugs but has no recess and actually states on it that it will not earth side contact plugs! Please ship correct product.”

‘only the best deals 4u’: “Sorry for the error, may i kindly request you to attach an image of the received item?”

Me: “Image as requested.”

‘only the best deals 4u’: “I do not see what the issue is with the plug?”

Me: “The issue is that is not the adaptor advertised, where do you think the earth connection for a European plug is in that adaptor?”

‘only the best deals 4u’: “Sorry to hear your your completely satisfied with our product. Can we offer a refund upon receipt of the adaptor?”

Me: “Please send stamped return envelope.”

‘only the best deals 4u’: “May I inform that no where on the listing does it state that the adaptor will accept a schuko plug.”

And then, shortly afterwards,

‘only the best deals 4u’: “However we do not wish you upset you, can we offer a 50% refund if you wish to keep the product as, sending the item back would prove to be too costly.”

Me: “The illustration is clearly of an adaptor which will accept a Schuko plug, the adaptor sent is a completely different type. Either send the right type, as illustrated, or a full refund. If you look at the reviews (as I now have) you will many a number of complaints about this.”

‘only the best deals 4u’: “Sorry, i will issue a full refund.”

Which they did, but how many people are using these things with Shuko plugs, completely unaware that they have no earth protection?

‘only the best deals 4u’ is no longer listed as a supplier of that product, neither are several of the others who were supplying the wrong product. However, some suppliers who shipped inappropriate products are still offering on this listing, and others are joining them. The issue remains unresolved.

Member

I hadn’t come across this socket before – I’m sure others will have.
http://www.voltimum.co.uk/articles/bbc-and-fatally-flawed-dispute-over-chinese-made-universal-sockets?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email
I quickly found examples on ebay and on Amazon.

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Another interesting find. And doesn’t the BBC look foolish!

Good work again mr

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It seems ironic that Voltimum offers the chance to win a £50 Amazon voucher if I register with them. Hopefully the T&Cs state that it should not be used to buy electrical goods.

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It all depends how wisely you spend your Amazon voucher! I wouldn’t hold your breath over an Early Day Motion. So far this has attracted 28 MP’s signatures, but they rarely seem to be debated.

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Another big problem – unapproved and sub-standard electrical cables of Chinese manufacture – primarily sold in Australia but may have come into the UK market. Cables should carry the relevant standards approval number and marks (but clearly can be counterfeited). Would you know if your electrical contractor has used it?
http://www.voltimum.co.uk/articles/faulty-cable-leaves-woolworths-australia-big-financial-headache?mailing_id=388&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email

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Electrical socket safety – the BBC promoted unsafe universal sockets 3 years ago on a radio programme that subsequently remained on-line. This was challenged as promoting unsafe electrical goods and has finally been removed – 3 years too late! However, the unsafe universal sockets are still on sale from, among others, online retailers that apparently include Amazon, eBay, WeSellElectrical.co.uk and CIE-Group Ltd.. Is Which? powerless to have any impact on this?

http://www.voltimum.co.uk/articles/bbc-finally-responds-complaint-about-programme-illegal-universal-sockets?mailing_id=479&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email

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I see that Voltimum are still offering a £50 Amazon for registering with them. Perhaps they should offer a book on electrical safety instead.

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I have not made any more purchases from this particular product offering at Amazon for a while, but am interested to note that it is still there, and there are still two totally different adaptors shown on the offering (those shown at top left, and bottom centre in the photo here). The product is still described as being ‘by’ Auna, a company who are actually an audio equipment supplier and do not offer such products. In addition, the description now includes “STYLE A” with no explanation of what that might mean (there is certainly no generally accepted meaning for that). So, not much difference in the opacity of Amazon Market place offerings.

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Amazon Marketplace: the masters of illusion…

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