Two-thirds of online marketplace products fail safety tests

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Two-thirds of the 250 products tested from Amazon Marketplace, AliExpress, eBay and Wish fail safety tests, according to the latest research from Which? and consumer groups across Europe.

The pan-European investigation found 66% of the products bought from online marketplaces including Amazon, eBay, AliExpress and Wish failed safety tests,  including carbon monoxide alarms, baby toys and travel adaptors. 

In total, 250 products across 18 categories – bought from third-party sellers on the most popular sites – were tested over the last year and 165 of them failed official safety tests. Many were found to be a safety risk to consumers because of factors including containing harmful substances, inferior design or unclear information. 

Alarmingly, researchers found that every single product tested in the teeth-whitening, CO alarms, balloons, smoke alarms and helmet categories were deemed safety failures. 

Which? believes the shocking findings demonstrate why greater regulation for online marketplaces is needed – a view that has now been endorsed by BEUC, the consumer body representing consumer organisations across Europe including Germany (Stiftung Warentest), Belgium (Test-Achats), Netherlands (Consumentenbond), Denmark (Forbrugerrådet Tænk) and Italy (Altroconsumo).

Online marketplaces aren’t currently responsible for the safety of the products sold through their sites and the new findings show that this is failing to stop many unsafe products being listed for sale. 

Which? found:

Smoke and CO alarms that couldn’t detect smoke or CO

Christmas lights that could give you an electric shock

USB chargers and travel adaptors that could cause a fire

A power bank that melted during testing

Safety tests were also carried out by the other European consumers’ associations and found teeth-whitening products with too much hydrogen peroxide, kids’ clothes that were choking hazards and cosmetics sold without their ingredients listed.

Every time that products failed safety tests, Which? and its partners informed the online marketplace that it was purchased from, along with any other marketplaces listing what appeared to be identical products, and each time the listings were quickly removed.

Yet, Which? found that – in some instances – no sooner had these products been delisted they then appeared again on the online marketplaces. 

Given the scale of these issues, Which? has been calling for the government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for ensuring the safety of products sold on their sites, establish clearer requirements for them to remove dangerous products once they are identified and ensure there is better oversight and enforcement to keep consumers safe.

Neena Bhati, Head of Campaigns, Which?, said:

“Online marketplaces have quickly become a popular way for people to shop online and yet Which? testing has repeatedly exposed how large numbers of dangerous products are sold on these sites everyday.

“These platforms have failed to get a grip on this despite years of warnings, and so the government must now step in to make online marketplaces responsible for ensuring the safety of the products sold on their sites.”

  • In 2019, several ICRT partners (including Which?, Stiftung Warentest, Test-Achats, Consumentenbond, Forbrugerrådet Tænk and Altroconsumo) bought 250 products from online retailers and marketplaces, in order to check their compliance with EU safety requirements. 

  • Five consumer groups which are part of ICRT (International Consumer Research and Testing) tested 18 different product types ranging from those designed to keep you safe, such as carbon monoxide (CO) and smoke alarms, to Christmas lights and USB chargers. These were bought from the cheap end of the price range and each product test delivered worrying safety results.

  • Unsafe products were found in each product category tested: 

 

Pass

Fail

Total

General

85

34%

165

66%

250

           

Baby toys

2

10%

19

90%

21

Balloons

0

0%

5

100%

5

Binoculars

1

6%

16

94%

17

Children’s clothing

2

12%

14

88%

16

Children’s make-up

1

9%

10

91%

11

Children’s toys

19

83%

4

17%

23

Christmas lights

7

54%

6

46%

13

CO alarms

0

0%

7

100%

7

Cosmetics

17

44%

22

56%

39

Helmets

0

0%

3

100%

3

Jewellery

2

29%

5

71%

7

Plastic toys

20

69%

9

31%

29

Powerbanks

5

42%

7

58%

12

Smoke alarms

0

0%

4

100%

4

Teeth-whitening

0

0%

11

100%

11

Teething toys

4

50%

4

50%

8

Travel adaptors

1

8%

11

92%

12

USB chargers

4

33%

8

67%

12

Right of replies

Amazon:

“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.

“Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality and we may remove and take legal action against those who do not. These are isolated incidents that do not reflect the fantastic products and customer experience provided by millions of small businesses selling in our store.”

AliExpress

“AliExpress takes product safety very seriously and works relentlessly to ensure that consumers are protected on our platform. We have strict platform rules that require all third-party sellers to comply with all applicable local laws and regulations.

“AliExpress has strong processes and technology in place to help prevent the listing of any products that violate our policies, such as proactively screening for and taking down any non-compliant listings.

“When we are made aware of unsafe or prohibited items on our platform, as on this occasion with Which?, we act quickly to remove them and take action against the sellers, which can include suspending their accounts or removing them from the platform.”

Ebay:

“These listings have been removed and we have taken enforcement action against the sellers.

We have no tolerance for unsafe, banned, recalled, or illegal products on our marketplaces, and it is required in our User Agreement that all sellers comply with the law.

Between October 2018 and October 2019 our filters automatically blocked 5 million listings from entering the marketplace on product safety grounds. eBay also works with organisations around the world including the EU market surveillance authorities and Westminster Trading Standards. If any of these authorities informs us that a product is dangerous, we ban it on all our marketplaces globally and action sellers in the form of a warning, restriction, suspension or ban.”

Wish:

“All of the merchants on our platform are required to adhere to local laws and safety standards wherever their goods are sold. In the rare instance where a product falls below those standards and sufficient evidence is provided, we take the appropriate action to remove the items as swiftly as possible. In some cases, we also apply sanctions to merchants who have intentionally circumvented our policies and safety standards.

“As we continue to grow and expand our product range, we are exploring a number of new technologies and initiatives to help improve the customer experience and ensure we are creating a safe and fun environment for users to shop online.”

Chris Price
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