New investigation by Charity finds everyday products on e-commerce sites putting consumers at serious risk of injury in the lead up to Cyber Monday
Some of the biggest global e-commerce sites are failing to tackle the sale of dangerous electrical products, putting consumers at risk from possible severe electric shock and fire.
Electrical Safety First, a consumer safety Charity, tested products found on Amazon Marketplace, eBay and Wish, in a specialist lab, including items such as hair straighteners, phone chargers, travel adaptors and laser hair removers.
Of the 15 products which were purchased, based on the expert knowledge of the Charity’s technical team, 14 failed tests against the UK standard. Test failures ranged from minor non-compliances with markings to severe failures posing a risk of electric shock and fire to the consumer. The Charity believes this to be a snap shot of a much wider problem.
One of the most severe failures came from Wish, an enormously popular marketplace with those seeking dirt cheap bargains. A single-port charger, similar in shape and colour to that of an Apple product, was fitted with no protective devices leaving the product at risk of internal rupturing leading to a possible explosion in the event of a failure. Footage captured by the Charity shows the catastrophic failing of the product.
Buyers seeking beauty bargains are also at risk as the Charity discovered a laser hair remover, purchased from eBay, that posed a significant risk of electric shock to the user because of access to live parts. A pair of counterfeit GHD hair straighteners were also purchased from Wish and found to pose a potential electric shock risk.
A hairdryer was also purchased from Wish which, when put through a test to restrict the products air flow, ignited, causing the flames to emit from the front of the product, failing to be contained within.
A modelling hair comb purchased via Amazon Marketplace also exhibited a fire risk to the user due to a non-compliant plug which would be deemed illegal to be sold in the UK against current safety standards. This could cause a fire in the event of a short circuit. The Charity believes marketplaces are swiftly becoming the wild west of the web, with serious regulation now needed to tackle the issue.
A survey commissioned by Electrical Safety First to accompany the startling findings from the lab testing highlights how many of us will put a price on our safety with almost 1 in 3 (29%) Brits surveyed admitting that they would knowingly buy something fake or substandard online if they saw it for a fraction of the price. Of those who said they would, nearly 1 in 3 would do so if it meant bagging a discount of 30% or less compared to the price of the real thing.
Further findings show Brits continue to be duped by fake goods online with almost 1 in 4 having purchased an electrical product online, sold by a third-party seller that was advertised as genuine, only to discover the product was counterfeit. More worrying research found 1 in 10 UK adults have first-hand experience of a shock or fire caused by an electrical item purchased online .
This is not the first time Electrical Safety First has raised concerns about the issue of counterfeit goods sold online. In 2018, the Charity uncovered dangerous electrical goods for sale across a selection of e-commerce sites and created its own seller profile named ‘Dangerous Electrical Ltd’ as a test, which was successfully verified after using a fake name, passport number and date of birth to create the profile.
These new findings, featuring robust lab results, demonstrate the everyday danger posed to consumers as well as the slow progress made on the issue since last year’s investigation. The Charity is now calling for tougher legislation to be introduced to regulate marketplaces, as the current Product Safety Pledge many marketplaces have already signed up to holds no legal weight.
Electrical Safety First believes the Government must now introduce legislation requiring marketplaces to take pro-active responsibility for policing their sites for illegal sales of dangerous electrical goods sold by third-party sellers. This should be introduced separately to steps being taken to remove the sale of counterfeits on intellectual property grounds.
Martyn Allen, Technical Director of Electrical Safety First commented: “The results of our tests are extremely worrying for those who buy electrical products from online marketplaces. 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.”
Dos and don’ts of online shopping
Do check the price – If it’s a bargain and the price is too good be true, then it probably is!
Don’t trust images – Seeing is not believing. Do not trust that the image displayed on the advert is a true representation of the product you will receive.
Do look for contact details – If the seller’s contact details are not supplied, or there is a just a PO Box, be wary; many fake electrical goods are manufactured overseas, where they will not be safety tested and are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
Don’t rely on reviews – Previous happy customers may not be aware they have purchased a substandard or counterfeit item. Reviews will be based on the product working at one point in time, rather than the potential safety risks it poses.
Do buy from a reputable retailer – by buying your electrical products from reputable retailers, or directly from the manufacturer, you can be assured you’re buying the real thing.
How to check if you’ve bought a fake:
- Inspect the packaging and item carefully. Look out for the tell-tale signs of flimsy packaging and substandard printing, such as spelling mistakes or grammatical errors. Compare your item to an online image from a trusted, high street retailer.
- Look for a legitimate safety certification label. All electrical products will have one or more safety certifications on their label if made by a legitimate manufacturer. If the certification mark is present only on the packaging, but not on the product itself, there’s a good chance the product is fake.
- Make sure everything that should be there is there. Fake products may not include supplementary materials such as a manual or a product registration card or even all the parts!
- Check the plug. If you’ve purchased your product from a UK retailer, look to see whether the appliance has a three-pin UK plug or charger.
- Trust your instinct. If you are still uncertain about your product for any reason, you’re probably right to be wary. Visit the high street to compare your product to those on sale in store; if your item varies in any way do not use it.
What to do if you think you might have purchased a fake electrical product:
If you suspect you have purchased a fake, stop using it immediately. Report it to Trading Standards so that they can take action against the seller; selling fake products is illegal and puts people’s lives at risk. For more advice, visit electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk/spotthefake.
For more information, please contact:
Joshua Drew T: 07864 009875 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Tom Davies T: 07866 702 069 E: email@example.com
- Electrical Safety First is a UK Charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and death caused by electricity. More information can be found at electricalsafetyfirst.org.uk.
- All consumer research, unless otherwise stated, was undertaken from 16 to 21 October 2019 by Censuswide with a sample of 3,006 general consumers. The figures are representative of all UK adults over the age of 16.
 Five products were purchased from each of eBay, Amazon Marketplace and Wish. All but one of the products either failed tests against the safety standard or were simply non-compliant with regards to markings. In the case of the universal travel adaptors purchased from Wish and Amazon these had visible defects (lack of shutters) which rendered them a severe safety risk without testing being necessary.
 Images of the hair straighteners were sent to GHD who confirmed that the product was a counterfeit
 Consumer research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Electrical Safety First found that 29% of those surveyed answered ‘yes, definitely’ or ‘yes, possibly’ to the question “Would you ever knowingly purchase a substandard or counterfeit electrical item from an online marketplace such as eBay or Amazon Marketplace if the product would only cost you a fraction of the price of the real thing?”; 31% answered ‘1-10%’, ‘11-20%’ or ’21-30%’ to the question ‘What percentage discount would make you seriously consider purchasing a substandard or fake?’
 Consumer research conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Electrical Safety First found that 23% of those surveyed answered ‘Yes, more than once’ or ‘Yes, once’ to the question ‘Have you ever purchased an electrical item from a website sold by a third party advertised as genuine, only to find out it was counterfeit?’; 10% of respondents answered ‘Yes, I have experienced this’ to the question ‘Have you or any friends/family ever experienced a shock or fire caused by an electrical product bought from an online marketplace? (Tick all that apply)’ – a further 12% answered ‘Yes, my friends/family have experienced this’.