More concerns raised about safety of products on online marketplaces

Further concerns have been raised about Amazon and eBay’s failure to stop the sale of unsafe products after a charity found them listing “potentially deadly” electrical items.

Electrical Safety First said the two sites, as well as online marketplace Wish, were putting consumers at risk from possible severe electric shock and fire after testing items such as hair straighteners, phone chargers, travel adaptors and laser hair removers.

Out of 15 products bought on the advice of the charity’s technical experts and tested independently, 14 failed tests against the UK standard. Failures ranged from minor non-compliance over markings to severe failures posing a risk of electric shock and fire to the consumer.

A hair-dryer bought from Wish shows the damage caused as a result of prevention of air flow, resulting in the product catching fire
A hair-dryer bought from Wish shows the damage caused as a result of prevention of air flow, resulting in the product catching fire (Electrical Safety First/PA)

All three sites have removed the products from sale.

However, the charity said it believed its findings to be a “snapshot of a much wider problem”.

Just last week, Which? said Amazon and eBay were failing to take “basic steps” to stop the listing of toys that appeared to have been declared unsafe by the EU safety alert system.

The consumer group’s findings led it to call on the next government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold.

Electrical Safety First captured footage of a single-port charger exploding after buying it from Wish, having already identified that it was at risk of internal rupturing leading to a possible explosion.

A laser hair remover bought from eBay posed a significant risk of electric shock to the user because of access to live parts, while counterfeit GHD hair straighteners bought from Wish were also found to pose a potential electric shock risk.

A hair dryer bought from Wish ignited in a test restricting the product’s air flow, while a modelling hair comb purchased via Amazon Marketplace also posed a fire risk due to a non-compliant plug which is illegal for sale in the UK.

Electrical Safety First said online marketplaces were “swiftly becoming the wild west of the web”, noting that the current Product Safety Pledge many marketplaces have already signed up to held no legal weight.

A survey by the charity found almost one in three Britons (29%) would knowingly buy a fake or substandard product online if they saw it for a fraction of the price.

Almost one in four have already bought an electrical product that was advertised as genuine from a third-party seller online, only to discover the product was counterfeit.

One in 10 adults have first-hand experience of a shock or fire caused by an electrical item bought online, the poll found.

The charity’s technical director, Martyn Allen, said: “Some of the products we discovered during our investigation could be potentially deadly to the consumer with some posing a serious risk of electric shock or fire.

“No product that fails our tests should be being sold, and it’s very clear that the lack of regulation of online marketplaces – from government or from the sites themselves – is allowing those who sell dangerous goods to make a profit at the expense of consumer safety. As well as legislation, properly funded enforcement at ports and airports are necessary to stop these goods from entering the country.

“If you’re buying an electrical item, stick to a reputable retailer whom you trust and if you spot any safety concerns, stop using it and contact the manufacturer. Buyers need to beware.”

Caroline Normand, director of advocacy at Which?, said: “These alarming findings back up our own research which has repeatedly exposed how online marketplaces can put people at serious risk by failing to stop dangerous products being sold on their sites.

“Despite claims to have strong safety systems in place it’s far too simple for dodgy goods to get on to these sites. It’s clear that consumer protections must be strengthened to tackle the scourge of unsafe products.”

An Amazon spokesman said: “Safety is a top priority at Amazon. We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations and have developed industry-leading tools to prevent unsafe or non-compliant products from being listed in our stores. The products have been removed.”

An eBay spokeswoman said: “The importance of our customers’ safety is paramount. We proactively enforce our Product Safety Policy using block filter algorithms to prevent unsafe products from being listed. In addition, our security team continuously patrols our marketplaces and will remove items and take appropriate action against sellers who breach our policies.”

Censuswide surveyed 3,006 UK adults between October 16-21.

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