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Online marketplaces fail to remove banned products after consumers report them

Kalila Sangster
·5-min read
Some online platforms and sites have been selling banned products, according to a Which? investigation. Photo: Getty
Some online platforms and sites have been selling banned products, according to a Which? investigation. Photo: Getty

Online marketplaces are failing to remove banned and dangerous products from their sites even after they have been reported by consumers and recalled in the UK and across Europe, a Which? investigation has revealed.

Amazon (AMZN), eBay (EBAY) and Wish were all allowing dangerous products to be sold that have been banned Europe-wide, according to the consumer group.

The investigation found nine products were still available to order from these sites that were listed on Safety Gate, a database of dangerous consumer products from across Europe that are deemed unsafe fore consumers.

The dangerous products included a One Step hair-styling tool at risk of catching fire and Grow Snow Insta-Snow Powder which is a choking hazard for children.

The researchers found it difficult to report these banned items effectively — Amazon and eBay have reporting tools on their product listings, but lack a clear option for reporting a safety issue. The sites instead feature the option to report issues such as incorrect product information, prohibited items, product quality issue, and fraudulent listing activities.

When Which? researchers reported the items no action was taken by either online marketplace and not one of the items was removed from sale.

Wish said that it would review the report to see if the product listing breached its policies. However, there was no further response and, nearly a month later, the listing for the dangerous recalled product was still online.

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The sites only took rapid action to remove the products after the issues were reported to the companies’ respective press offices by Which?

Even when Which? experts have reported unsafe products to online marketplaces in an official capacity and the sites have removed the listings, they have often reappeared in new listings within days, the investigation found.

These sites have all signed up to the EU’s product safety pledge, which states that marketplaces should provide a clear way for customers to notify them of dangerous product listings and give an appropriate response within five working days. However these findings suggest they are falling short – raising questions about the effectiveness of voluntary initiatives

Amazon, eBay and Wish have all signed up to the EU’s product safety pledge — agreeing to provide a clear way for customers to notify them of dangerous product listings and give an appropriate response within five working days.

However, Which? suggested that the current processes in place for monitoring, as well as reporting unsafe products, are inadequate and leave shoppers at risk of purchasing dangerous, banned products.

Which? is calling on the government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for preventing dangerous products from being sold on their sites, so that consumers are protected from items with serious safety issues being sold by third-parties.

Earlier this year, eBay promised to look into several listings for three dangerous, recalled counterfeit Samsung charging plugs that were found for sale on the site. According to eBay’s own listing information, more than 360 of the chargers had been bought across five of the listings and Which? researchers were able to buy the plugs without receiving any recall information or warnings from the sellers.

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Seven months later, hundreds of listings for the chargers were still on sale, according to Which? Although eBay has now removed the specific listings that Which? shared a number of other listings still appear to remain on the site.

Which? said: “This is a worrying indictment of how seriously the company takes recalls and could be a breach of legislation that requires online marketplaces to take action once they become aware of illegal content, although the legislation doesn’t specify how quickly this has to be done.”

Which? is calling on online marketplaces to “make it easier to report unsafe products, investigate any reports they receive and let customers know of any safety issues that emerge after a product has been purchased.”

An Amazon spokesperson said: “Safety is our top priority and we want customers to shop with confidence on our stores. We have proactive measures in place to prevent suspicious or non-compliant products from being listed and we monitor the products sold in our stores for product safety concerns. When appropriate, we remove a product from the store, reach out to sellers, manufacturers, and government agencies for additional information, or take other actions. If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact our Customer Service directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.”

An eBay Spokesperson said: “We take product safety extremely seriously, working closely with authorities including Trading Standards and the Office for Product Safety and Standards to help educate sellers and protect buyers. Over a recent twelve-month period our filters blocked four million listings from making it onto site.”

“When using our ‘report listing’ function, Which? incorrectly reported two of these items by selecting the wrong reason for reporting, meaning the listings weren’t assessed for being unsafe, delaying the review process. One of the items listed wasn’t reported via the tool at all.

“We have now removed all eight listings flagged by Which? and asked sellers to issue a recall notice. Users can report any eBay listing by simply clicking the report button and selecting from the list of options. We will always investigate reported listings and take appropriate action against sellers.

“In addition to reporting listings to eBay, users can also report them to the seller and their local Trading Standards. We work closely with authorities to protect buyers and ensure eBay remains a safe marketplace to buy and sell.”

Natalie Hitchins, Which? head of home products and services, said:“Our investigation suggests many customer reports of dangerous products for sale online could end up being ignored or disregarded, and that it can be difficult to report products accurately in the first place.

“It is unacceptable that the biggest online marketplaces only seem to take safety concerns seriously when a watchdog like Which? comes calling.

“That’s why it’s vitally important for online marketplaces to be given greater legal responsibility for the safety of products sold on their sites, to ensure that they take proactive action to protect their customers.”

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