Parents are being warned about the risk of buying cheap, unbranded toys online after a new Which? investigation found more than 40 per cent of toys it bought from online marketplaces failed safety tests.
The consumer champion tested 28 toys bought from four popular online marketplaces – Amazon Marketplace, AliExpress, eBay and Wish – and found 12 posed a safety risk after failing one or more tests.
Each product was tested against British safety standards and checked for small objects that could pose a choking risk, sharp edges and points, cords or fabrics that could pose a strangulation risk and magnets and batteries that could be easily accessed as well as warning notices.
In total, Which? found 50 safety failures among the 12 toys that failed tests, with 10 toys presenting a choking risk and two posing a strangulation risk for children. Which? also found two toys that had either magnets or batteries that could be easily accessed, which could cause serious injuries to children if swallowed.
While 16 of the 28 toys Which? tested passed safety tests, five of the products that failed tests were sold on Wish, making it the worst offender. Three were sold on eBay and AliExpress respectively and only one was available on Amazon Marketplace.
The most dangerous product Which? found was a 51-piece doctor’s playset – described as a toy for a baby or toddler – sold on Wish, which was filled with unsafe toys and had at least 20 choking hazards. Most of the toys in the set broke into small and dangerous parts far too easily, including play scissors and a notepad which revealed sharp points.
It also contained toy plasters and pills which were far too small for young children to play with safely and presented a choking risk.
A similar doctor’s set sold on AliExpress was also filled with dangerous toys and failed tests. Which? identified 10 potential choking hazards and also found the long cord on the doctor’s coat could present a strangulation hazard.
A set of magnetic building blocks aimed at children aged three years old and above and sold on Amazon Marketplace also failed safety tests. It did not withstand the impact test and broke open to reveal tiny magnets that were almost four times as powerful as they were permitted to be under current standards, which could pose a choking risk.
Magnets can also cause serious harm to children if swallowed, as they could attract each other in the gut and create blockages, compression of the gut and perforation which would need surgery to fix.
Which? also found a toy tablet sold on Wish that posed a serious risk as the battery cover could be easily removed to reveal a button battery. Similar to magnets, button batteries can be a choking hazard and cause serious injuries or chemical burns if swallowed.
In recent years, organisations such as the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) have issued warnings about button batteries after fatal incidents involving children swallowing them. It is recommended that children’s toys have a secure battery cover that needs a screwdriver or two simultaneous movements to remove.
Which? shared its investigation with the four online marketplaces and all 12 products that failed have since been removed from sale.
Unlike UK retailers, online marketplaces have limited responsibility for ensuring the products sold on their platform meet legal safety requirements, repeatedly allowing unsafe toys and products to make it onto their sites.
The UK’s product safety regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, is currently reviewing the product safety system, including regulation of online sales. Which? believes that online marketplaces must be given greater legal responsibility for the safety of products sold on their sites so that consumers are far better protected from dangerous and illegal items.
Sue Davies, Which? Head of Consumer Protection Policy, said:
“Many parents will be appalled by our research which has revealed that some toys bought from online marketplaces are failing to meet safety standards and could pose a serious safety risk to children playing with them.
“Consumers should be able to trust that products sold in the UK are safe and meet the standards required, yet a woeful lack of checks and monitoring by online marketplaces means dangerous toys are entering people’s homes.
‘It is absolutely crucial that online marketplaces are urgently given greater legal responsibility for the safety of products sold on their sites so that consumers are far better protected from dangerous and illegal items.’
Notes to editor
Which? tested 28 toys available on AliExpress, Amazon, eBay and Wish to clauses from the toy safety standards BS EN 71-1 Safety of toys and BS EN 62115 Electric toys.
Video available here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IceRlf3zasw
Please see a list of 12 products that failed tests, with details on each failure:
Doctor’s set sold on Wish – This playset is filled with unsafe toys, with many parts of the 51-piece set simply breaking into small and dangerous parts far too easily, presenting at least 20 potential choke hazards.
Doctor’s set sold on AliExpress – Which? found more than 10 choke hazards in our tests, mostly caused by bits of the set breaking too easily into easily swallowable parts. We also found sharp edges on some of the toys following our impact tests and the overly long cord on the doctor’s coat is a strangulation hazard.
Infinitoo magnetic building blocks sold on Amazon – The products were not strong enough to make it through a standard impact test and the building blocks broke open spilling out tiny magnets that posed a choking and ingestion risk. The magnets were almost four times as powerful as they are permitted to be.
Toy tablet sold on Wish – In tests, the tip of the stylus broke off too easily and this could be a choking hazard for a young child. Also, the battery compartment cover was too easy to remove.
Toy dog sold on Wish – This furry toy dog came with a pendant hanging around its neck, but in the tension test the pendant tore and the bits that broke off could be a choking hazard for a child.
Toy dog sold on eBay – Both the eyes and the nose detached too easily in tests. The hardened lumps of glue that tried to hold them in place could be swallowed causing a child to choke.
Caterpillar crib toy sold on Wish – The curly and colourful crib toy and rattle comes with hanging ribbons which when played with by a baby could become wrapped tight around their neck, posing a strangulation risk.
Hanging crib monkey rattle sold on Wish – In tests, the banana broke away from the rest of the toy, leaving a tear in the fabric. A baby could get its finger stuck inside the toy or could scoop out the stuffing inside and choke on it.
Baby sensory box sold on eBay – Testing has exposed the rattle broke too easily releasing small balls, which could be a choking hazard. The brightly coloured ribbons attached to a wooden ring were also too long and presented a strangulation risk.
Rainbow ribbon ring sold on eBay – In the impact test, it broke into small pieces that a baby could choke on. During the tension test, the ribbons stretched to beyond the permitted length of 30cm, making them a strangulation hazard.
Ring teether with bells and ribbons sold on AliExpress – This ring and rattle did not survive the impact test and broke into bits small enough to be swallowed by a baby. The ribbons stretch to more than 44cm when put through a tension test – this is 14 cm longer than is allowed and presents a clear strangulation risk.
Toy phone sold on AliExpress – In the standard test, the laminated sticker came away from the phone with little force and because of its size could prove to be a choking hazard for a young child.
Right of reply
An Amazon spokesperson said: “Safety is important to Amazon 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 the safety of our users extremely seriously and work closely with authorities including Trading Standards to help ensure sellers and listings on eBay comply with laws and regulations. We have removed the products identified by Which? and taken the appropriate action on the sellers. We have filters in places which automatically block listings which are unsafe or do not comply with our policies. These blocked six million unsafe listings from making it onto site in 2020. Our teams also work around the clock as an additional safety net to manually review and remove anything which may not have been caught by our filters.”
A Wish spokesperson said: “All merchants on our platform are required to adhere to local laws and safety standards where their goods are sold. In the rare instance where a product falls foul of those standards, it is promptly removed and, where appropriate, the merchant in question faces a potential suspension from the platform.”
Which? also reached out to the sellers it bought the toys from and offered them the opportunity to comment. But none of the sellers or the one manufacturer it was able to contact had provided a comment by the time of publication.
How to spot a dangerous toy
- Is it cheaper than you expected? – If the toy you’re buying is a popular brand and noticeably cheaper than you expected it to be, it might be a counterfeit product. If the price looks too good to be true, alarm bells should start to ring before you buy.
- Look for the CE mark, age-labelling and question what you see – The CE mark should indicate that the toy you’ve bought meets all the legal requirements to be sold in the UK. But, we’ve seen many unsafe products carrying what we believe to be fake CE markings, so if the packaging is poor, the instructions are missing and it feels a bit cheap, there’s a chance that it could be dangerous or a fake. Toys should be marked clearly with the age of the child they are designed for. So, if you buy a toy and find that there’s no age guidance provided, it could prove to be unsafe.
- Look and feel of the toys – Unsafe toys may come without packaging or instructions. So, if the packaging isn’t what you expected or the instructions are missing or minimal, it could be dangerous.
- Play with the toy yourself – Get your hands on the toy and play with it. If it feels a bit lightweight or insubstantial, it might be dangerous.
- Are the batteries fitted securely? – Check that any batteries are screwed in or that removing the battery cover needs two movements to happen at the same time.
- Look for potentially dangerous small parts – Look for small parts that could be a choke hazard for young children or babies. You can buy a tool – a small parts cylinder – to help with this for £5 online. If the parts fit wholly in the small parts cylinder with none poking out of the top, and the toy is for a child under three, this presents a choke hazard and the toy shouldn’t be sold in the UK.
- Watch your child opening and playing with a new toy for the first time – Keep an eye on your child when they are first opening and playing with a toy for the first time to make sure that the toy doesn’t break into a hundred pieces the moment it’s played with.