Online marketplaces are rife with unsafe electrical appliances – many with potentially lethal faults, a new Which? investigation has revealed.
The consumer champion tested dozens of USB chargers, travel adaptors and power banks listed for sale across Amazon Marketplace, Ebay, Wish and AliExpress. These were a combination of products that were unbranded or where the brand was unrecognised by Which? experts.
The research uncovered multiple examples of poorly designed, unsafe products that could cause electric shocks or start fires.
Which? tested 12 USB chargers bought from online marketplaces that appeared very similar to a genuine Apple charger, and claimed to work with the company’s devices.
Eight of the products had components so badly designed that they presented an electric shock risk, while seven also failed electrical strength tests – designed to check the products can handle a set voltage and still work safely.
For one USB charger bought from AliExpress, arcing could be heard during testing – indicating an electric current was flowing through the air. If replicated in someone’s home, this could result in an electric shock, the charger catching fire or cause the product that is being powered to explode.
Eleven out of 12 unbranded or unknown brand USB travel adaptors bought from the four online marketplaces also failed electrical safety tests, with nine failing the probe test. This involves sticking two differently sized probes into the plug holes to check whether it would be possible for someone to receive an electric shock after pushing an object or a finger inside the holes.
Four of the nine unknown brand power banks purchased from the online marketplaces also failed Which? testing due to a range of faults that could all lead to the products overheating and catching fire.
Of the branded products tested, one power bank made by Trust and purchased from Amazon Marketplace was so poorly put together that it started to smoke and melt during charging, while the Go Travel 4000mAh Mobile Power Bank ended up overheating during testing, causing damage to the case and the circuit board.
In total, nearly three-quarters of the 33 unbranded or unknown brand products that Which? purchased from online marketplaces failed the electrical safety tests. Worryingly, several of the products displayed a CE mark, suggesting to consumers that they are legal to sell in the UK and meet all safety standards, but based on the evidence of our testing they could put consumers at risk.
Which? is advising people to be wary of buying cheap products from brands they don’t recognise, especially in the case of electrical appliances available through online marketplaces.
The safety of battery chargers appears to be a growing safety concern. Home Office fire data shows that fires in England caused by these products have nearly quadrupled in recent years, rising from 24 in 2010/11 to 91 in 2017/18.
All four online marketplaces are removing listings of the unsafe items following Which?’s investigation. However, the consumer champion is growing increasingly concerned that the product safety system isn’t equipped to prevent dangerous products from being sold on online marketplaces.
Which? wants to see these online marketplaces taking greater responsibility for the products sold on their sites and shut out the unscrupulous operators currently given free rein to sell inferior or dangerous products. The Office for Product Safety & Standards (OPSS) and Trading Standards should also ensure that these sites are more effectively policed.
Natalie Hitchins, Which? Head of Home Products and Services, said:
“Online marketplaces that list cheap and unsafe electrical products sold by unknown brands are putting people at risk.
“These products might be cheap but our testing shows they have the potential to cause serious damage or injury, including electric shocks and fires.
“Online marketplaces need to take greater responsibility for the products that are sold on their sites – while the product safety authorities must do much more to identify unsafe products and keep them out of people’s homes.”
Notes to eds
- How we test
Which? tested USB chargers, travel adaptors and power banks to a collection of extracts from electrical safety standards to check whether they met the requirements of the Low Voltage Directive and were safe to be sold in the UK.
Which? selected products that were unbranded – or were from brands that were unrecognised by Which? experts – and sellers from Amazon Marketplace, AliExpress, Ebay and Wish. It also tested well-known brands and products available from high street stores.
|Unknown brands that failed safety tests
- Advice for consumers
People should be wary of buying cheap products from brands they don’t recognise, especially in the case of electrical appliances available through online marketplaces.
Those who think they have purchased one of the products featured here should stop using it immediately and if you bought it recently, contact the seller for a refund.
We’ve passed on the findings of our research onto each of the online marketplaces we purchased the products from and have requested that all of the unsafe products are removed from sale immediately.
And we’ve also asked each of the online marketplaces to demand that its traders contact everyone who has purchased the unsafe products to alert them to the danger.
- Right of replies
- A spokesperson for Go Travel said it had it had received no complaints about its power bank, that it was tested to the appropriate standards, the Which? test result is an anomaly and that it will begin an immediate investigation.
- A spokesperson for Trust said: “Our power banks have all required compliance certificates. If our power banks are used according to the included manual and safety instructions, the power banks should function in a faultless manner. The power bank that you tested appears to be an incidental and exceptional chip failure”
- An Amazon spokesperson said: “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account. The products in question are no longer available.”
- A Wish spokesperson said: “As a marketplace with more than 2 billion products, we look to our community to help us ensure that products being sold by merchants are up to the standard that customers expect. We are grateful to Which? for alerting us to these products and looking out for the needs of the consumer. We are working to remove these products from the platform and are following up with the merchants in question to ensure they are adhering to local laws and regulations.”
- An Ebay spokesperson said: “The safety of customers is our number one priority and we do not tolerate non-compliant items. We welcome the findings by Which? to help us maintain this standard. Our teams work closely with regulators such as Trading Standards which are an important source for information about non-compliant items. This allows us to early on identify and remove non-compliant items among the 1.3 billion listings that are at any given time on eBay. It also helps us to educate our sellers and ensure that our policy enforcement stays up to date. The items have been removed, the sellers informed, and we advise any concerned customers to get in touch with their seller directly”.
- Home Office fire statistics: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/738426/domestic-appliance-fires-dataset-guidance.pdf
- Images available on request