A Which? investigation has found Amazon.com, eBay and Wish all selling dangerous products that have been recalled Europe-wide.
Our research has revealed time and again that unsafe products slip through the checks put in place by online marketplaces.
When Which? reports listings of dangerous products to online shopping sites, they're usually swiftly removed - but we wanted to find out if regular shoppers have the same experience, so we reported the listings posing as a consumer.
Not one of the items was removed by Amazon.com, eBay or Wish when we did this.
It was only when we reported the dangerous product listings using our real identity as the consumer champion that the items were removed from sale.
Our investigation found:
This winter, people are more reliant than ever on shopping online. Which? is calling on the government to make online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping dangerous products from being sold on their sites, so consumers aren't at risk of buying dangerous products from third-party sellers.
We checked Safety Gate, the European Commission's database of recalled products, in September 2020 and then searched to see whether any recalled products were still for sale.
Our investigation revealed nine items - including a torch with a serious safety alert and a hair styling tool with the risk of burning - still available to order from online marketplaces including Amazon.com, eBay and Wish. Five of them were on UK sites, while others could be shipped to the UK from the US (via Amazon.com rather than Amazon.co.uk, for example).
Online marketplaces have told us that they have checks in place to ensure dangerous products aren't listed for sale, but our research has found that they continue to slip through the net.
When an unsafe product does make it into a listing, you might assume the marketplace would remove it swiftly and permanently, as well as contacting shoppers who'd already bought the item.
And if you discover after you've bought an item that it's been recalled, or it develops a dangerous fault in your home, you'd expect the marketplace to make it simple to report the issue.
But - based on our experiences when we posed as everyday consumers - they don't.
Online marketplaces, including Alibaba, Amazon, eBay and Wish, have all signed up to the EU's product safety pledge, which outlines voluntary actions that should be taken to ensure the safety of non-food products sold on their platforms.
Part of the pledge states that marketplaces should provide a clear way for customers to notify them of dangerous product listings.
To put that to the test, we used a fake name and reported the recalled item listings to the marketplaces via their online reporting tools. We found the process to be unintuitive, complicated and, ultimately, ineffective.
Within Amazon's 'report incorrect product information' tool you can alert it to issues such as price, unclear images and missing information. We chose to report the product we found for sale using the 'product quality issue' option.
With eBay, you can report a listing for copyright and trademark issues, listing practices, fraudulent listing activities, price gouging and if it's a prohibited or restricted item. We weren't sure which to choose but eventually selected 'fraudulent listing activities' as we couldn't find a specific 'safety' option.
eBay told us that shoppers should report recalled or counterfeit products as 'other' prohibited items via its tool. There isn't a general 'safety issue' option, though.
Wish left us scratching our heads even more. After a search for 'dangerous product' within the help section of the website, we found an email address for reporting community guideline violations.
There's no mention of safety issues or product recalls within the community guidelines, but we went ahead with our report anyway.
We didn't hear anything from Amazon or eBay in relation to our reports, and the products remained online.
Wish did reply, letting us know that it would review the report to see whether it breached its policies. Clearly Wish felt that a dangerous recalled item didn't merit urgent investigation as, nearly a month later, the listing remained live.
The routes we followed to report the listings were technically incorrect, according to the marketplaces - but the correct process to follow was unclear on all of the websites, and we don't think most shoppers would have instinctively known how to report the dangerous products either.
It's not just the failure to remove products reported by consumers that we're concerned about. We've found some items that continue to be listed, despite Which? reporting them to eBay seven months ago.
In March, we found , all of which had been recalled and were listed on Safety Gate (formerly called Rapex). When we ordered these plugs from five different sellers, one fell apart as soon as we used it, revealing the spot of superglue holding it together - a dangerous issue.
According to eBay's own listing information, more than 360 of them had been bought across the five listings at that point.
When we alerted eBay to our findings at the time, it told us it would investigate the listings and remove any that breached its policies.We asked how many of the 360 shoppers received an alert to tell them they'd bought a potentially dangerous electrical item, and it didn't answer.
The marketplace did however tell us that it contacts sellers when it's alerted to safety issues or recalls, but that it's individual sellers' responsibility to contact buyers. Since we bought the chargers in March, we have had no communication from the sellers or eBay.
And then, seven months on, we found the same chargers still being sold.
This isa concerning indictment of how seriously the company takes recalls and a breach of UK legislation that states a business must take action to prevent harm if it discovers a dangerous product for sale.
The counterfeit chargers pose the risk of electric shock, and the model numbers to look out for are:
Our investigation focused on products that had been officially recalled, but of course that's not the only time that an issue may be reported by a shopper.
We spoke to Sam Holden, 45, who bought an electric heating pad for his cat from Amazon Marketplace in 2016. He told Which? that the product ended up overheating, emitting black smoke and burning his sofa.
He reported it to Amazon through the site at the time and the online marketplace did nothing. He then checked the listing again last year and was horrified to find that it was still on there, with a number of other people raising safety concerns in their reviews.
Sam said: 'Our children were young at the time and I was really angry that this could happen; we were really lucky to catch the overheating product when we did.
'To find that it hadn't been taken off the website years after the event was horrifying and indicative of a company taking no responsibility.'
When we shared Sam's story, Amazon said that this product was removed prior to being flagged by Which?.
Which? believes that the current processes online platforms have in place for monitoring and reporting unsafe products are not fit for purpose, and they leave consumers exposed to dangerous recalled products.
We want the government to give online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for ensuring the safety of products sold on their sites.
In the meantime, shopping sites must make it easier to report dangerous products, investigate any report they receive and let customers know of any safety issues that emerge after a product has been purchased.
Natalie Hitchins, head of home products and services at Which?, 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.'
We put our findings to Amazon, eBay and Wish.
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 told us: '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 12-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.' [Which? was surprised by this comment as we reported all of the items in the same way.]
'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.'
Wish said: 'We are committed to providing a safe environment for our users to shop online and have, over recent years, introduced a variety of measures designed to prevent, detect and respond to listings that are alleged to be unsafe.
'This includes monitoring the Rapex [Safety Gate] database for notifications that concern Wish and facilitating a “notice and take-down” procedure that is accessible to members of the public, authorities and industry bodies. As a further demonstration of our commitment to consumer welfare, we also became a signatory of the EC Product Safety Pledge in July 2020.
'We typically react to government notices within two working days, assuming a sufficient level of evidence is provided. Our current takedown procedure includes notification of a product recall to affected customers and merchants via email.