Charity warns England fans against cheap electronics from online marketplaces 

Electrical Safety First launches a new campaign warning shoppers of the dangers of buying electrical goods from unregulated online marketplaces.

Electrical Safety First is urging sporting fans bombarded with ads for discounted goods ‘don’t bring it home’ in a new campaign to raise awareness of unregulated online marketplaces.

The warning comes as many third-party sellers push advertising for cheap electronics during major global sporting events.

Previous investigations by the charity have uncovered substandard and dangerous electrical products across many major online marketplaces.

Examples of dangerous goods found last year via third party sellers across a variety of online marketplaces include portable heaters posing a serious risk of electrocution, hair straighteners and hair dryers featuring illegal UK plugs lacking essential safety components and substandard e-bike chargers that pose a fire risk.

Electrical Safety First chief executive Lesley Rudd said: 

‘Football, and other global sporting events, are experiencing advertising blitzes by major online marketplaces across the globe, and at a time when millions of people are struggling with finances, we understand how appealing low-cost deals will be.

‘But it’s important for fans to remember that they risk scoring an own goal if the deal they bag turns out to be a substandard or dangerous product.

‘Substandard electronics can have serious consequences for your safety and an innocent purchase could put you and your family at risk.’

The charity is urging the next government to introduce new laws for online marketplace giants to ensure they are legally obligated to take reasonable steps to ensure goods on their sites are safe.

Electric fan heater exploding with sparks and flames, burning plastic

The problem with online marketplaces 

Consumer protection laws have not kept up to date with the growth of online marketplaces, with private sellers being exempt from essential rules traditional online retailers must follow.

Rudd added: ‘Online marketplaces are not legally responsible for ensuring safe products for sale. Because of this, their sites can be a minefield for substandard goods sold by third parties.’

This is alarming because a recent survey from the charity of more than 10,000 nationally representative UK adults found 37% of people trust online marketplaces. 

‘Buyer beware’ when shopping at online marketplaces 

Goods you buy from private sellers on online marketplaces don’t have to be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose or free from fault – as long as faults are mentioned by the seller. 

You have more rights if you buy from a trader or retailer using an online marketplace to sell their products. In this case, your rights are much the same as they would be when you buy from traditional shops. For example, if the goods are faulty, you can get a full refund for up to 30 days.

However, your contract is with the seller – not the online marketplace – which can make it harder to get your money back when things go wrong.

Alex Neill, co-founder of Consumer Voice, said:

‘Online marketplaces – like those run by Amazon Marketplace, eBay or Facebook Marketplace – can be great for bagging a bargain, buying second-hand or finding hard-to-come-by items. 

‘But buyer beware: the same consumer protection laws don’t apply when you purchase goods from other consumers. 

Online marketplaces must act if they’re aware of illegal goods being sold but they’re mostly exempt from liability when things go wrong with products you buy from private sellers. So the onus is on you to find out everything you need to before making a purchase.’ 

Our shopping rights guide provides tips on getting your money back when things go wrong.

Tips on bring home a safe deal when shopping online

Electrical Safety First makes the following suggestions to consumers selecting electronics from online marketplaces:

  • Pay attention to the plug. If a product is listed with a foreign plug and travel adaptor, do not buy it. It is likely the seller has not complied with the standards for that product to be sold to UK consumers. If the plug looks oddly shaped or looks clover-like in shape, don’t buy it.
  • Do not buy on price alone. Not all bargains are worth it. Make sure you do your homework if you decide to buy products below high street retail prices.
  • Don’t just take the seller’s word for it – or the reviewers. Beware of a product with solely glowing reviews, especially if the reviewers are not verified. Some sites cross-reference user reviews with their buyer database and label those people as ‘verified purchasers’.
  • Know where you are buying from. Make sure you know where the supplier is based – a “co.uk” URL doesn’t guarantee the website is UK-based. If there is no address supplied, or there is just a PO Box, be wary; many dodgy electrical goods are manufactured overseas. They may not be safety tested and could be produced as quickly and cheaply as possible. 
  • Beware of words qualifying an item’s authenticity. If the seller claims the product is ‘genuine’, ‘CE certified’ or ‘approved’ double check the source. Most reputable retailers do not need to sell their products like this.
  • Spot the lock to pay safely. Look for websites that allow you to pay safely – these have a padlock symbol in the address bar of the website you are visiting. If you cannot see it, do not enter your payment details.

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