/ 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?.


I hadn’t come across this socket before – I’m sure others will have.
I quickly found examples on ebay and on Amazon.

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

Good work again mr

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.

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.

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?

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?


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