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1 Dec 2020

Which? warns parents to be vigilant when buying toys online this Christmas

Six in 10 toys from online marketplaces are a safety hazard for children, according to the British Toy and Hobby Association.
Parent searching online marketplaces for baby and

With more of us shopping online since the pandemic started, there are serious concerns about the safety of baby products and children's toys sold on online marketplaces this Christmas.

Recent research from the British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) found that 60% of toys being sold via third-party sellers on online marketplaces had serious safety failures when they tested them.

Shockingly, 86% were illegal to sell in the UK.

Which? testing has revealed safety problems with a number of baby and child products bought from AliExpress, Amazon Marketplace, Etsy, eBay and Wish.

Find out more about the BTHA report, what our own Which? tests found and how to shop safely online for baby and child products this Christmas.

The British Toy and Hobby Association's alarming new report

Child looking under bed

In its 2020 report, BTHA discovered a worrying rise in the number of illegal and unsafe toys being sold on online marketplaces such as Amazon, Alibaba and eBay.

86% of the randomly selected toys failed to comply with UK toy safety laws and 60% had faults that made them unsafe to play with.

Compare this to 58% and 22% respectively from BTHA's 2019 report; the findings paint a worsening picture for online toy safety.

Unlike standard retailers, there's no legal requirement for online marketplaces to check the safety of products that sellers are listing on their site.

Trying to remove unsafe products has become 'like playing wack-a-mole', with seemingly identical products reappearing after removal from a marketplace, even after they've been reported as unsafe.

And with many of the international sellers on online marketplaces falling outside the jurisdiction of UK enforcement authorities, tracing those responsible and holding them accountable is almost impossible.

This is why organisations such as Which? and BTHA, as well as the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) are calling for greater regulation and accountability for online marketplaces failing to protect consumers.

Five types of toys you need to be wary about buying online

Which? investigations into baby and child products found a number of safety issues and we would encourage you to be cautious when shopping for these products:

1. Toys that contain chemicals

Slime and putty toys are bestsellers every Christmas, but we've found restricted chemicals every time we've tested them.

In our last investigation, 40% of tested slimes and putties failed EU safety standards, containing excessive levels of chemicals that could cause irritation, diarrhoea and vomiting.

Our advice is to approach all slime and putty with caution as many lack safety labelling or information on ingredients.

Some were even self-certifying the packaging with a CE mark, suggesting the product is safe, despite the fact that the boron levels were too high.

2. Toys with removable batteries

If a toy has button batteries, it's crucial that you make sure the battery is secured behind a screwed-down flap.

The batteries found in remote controls and watches are small and easy to swallow, but batteries are dangerous or even fatal if ingested.

Watch our video to see why you have to be very careful about children getting access to button batteries.

3. Toys a child might put in their mouth

Babies will inevitably put things in their mouth, so it's essential any toy you buy is age-appropriate and checked for choking hazards before you give it to your child.

This is even more important for teething toys, which are designed for babies to chew on to relieve teething pain.

When we tested them, we found six teething toys which had parts detach that are small enough to be swallowed or inhaled - potentially blocking a baby's throat.

4. 'Smart' toys

Smart toys have some degree of connectivity allowing you and your child to interact with the toy via a smart device.

Unsecured connected toys can be a hacking risk, allowing anyone to connect to the toy and talk to your child.

Last Christmas we found a number of privacy and security issues with kids' karaoke machines and smart toys.

Download our smart toys safety checklist before buying a smart toy for your child.

5. Baby sleeping bags

Although not strictly a toy, our recent investigation into baby sleeping bags found issues with 12 out of the 15 that we tested.

Some had neck openings that are too wide, which could lead to a baby slipping down into the bag and suffocating, inaccurate tog ratings that could lead to a baby seriously overheating and a lack ofkey safety information in the instructions.

When buying a baby sleeping bag, make sure it's from a reputable brand and complies with BS EN 16781:2018, which is the safety standard for baby sleeping bags.

66% of online marketplace products failed our Which? tests

Research carried out by Which? earlier in 2020, in collaboration with five other European consumers' associations, found that two thirds of online marketplace products didn't pass relevant safety tests.

Below are the children products tested. Safety tests discovered cosmetics sold without their ingredients and children's toys with choke hazards.

Type of productNumber of products bought from online marketplacesNumber of safety test failures
Baby toys2119
Children's toys234
Plastic toys299
Teething toys84
Personal care and cosmetics
All products tested were bought from online market places and were tested in 2019 by Which? and five other European consumers' associations

See the full list of everything tested in our online marketplace safety fails report.

How to shop safely online for your baby or child

To help you avoid unsafe products online in the lead up to Christmas, follow our top tips:

  • Always read reviews. It is best to check independent reviews before buying online. At Which? all our products undergo rigorous safety tests, so you can certain our reviews will give you honest and unbiased advice.
  • Avoid fake reviews. If you're looking at customer reviews, don't just trust the overall score. Read the reviews, particularly negative ones, to see if other buyers had common issues. Find out how to spot a fake review.
  • Go for retailers and brands you know and trust so you know you are purchasing a quality product from a reputable seller.
  • Make sure the trader has a UK address. Aretailer or trader's identity and address must be displayed on its website. By checking this, you know they can be traceable and accountable for any issues.
  • Compare the product on multiple websites so you can make sure it's a quality and genuine product.
  • Check the returns policy. Although you have extra protections when shopping online, it isn't always the case when buying specific products or from a private individual - so it's always best to check.
  • Avoid deals that look too good to be true. If a deal seems too much of a bargain, it could be poor quality or counterfeit. If looking for a deal, go for retailers you know.

Read here to learn more about your consumer rights when shopping online, including more specific guidance on using Facebook and Amazon marketplaces.

Which? is calling for greater regulation

End Dangerous Products Which? Campaign

From our tests and the BTHA's report, there are clear and significant improvements that need to be made to ensure consumers are protected when buying from online marketplaces.

We are campaigning to end dangerous product sales, and asking for four regulatory improvements to be made in the online marketplace:

  • Sell Safe Products we want the government to apply the safety requirement in the General Product Safety Regulations to marketplaces, meaning sites will have to enhance their checks before including sellers on their sites.
  • Clarity on what to do when products are found to be unsafe we're calling for strong and consistent action when unsafe products are identified, and a new UK law requiring online marketplaces to make it clear to people they are buying from a trader, rather than another consumer.
  • Greater enforcement powers Enforcement officers, such as Trading Standards departments and the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS), should have the appropriate powers, resources, investigatory skills and intelligence to police online marketplaces, and the supply networks that underpin them.
  • Transparency for Consumers There should be greater transparency obligations so that consumers are clear who they are buying from.