Agenda item

Which? Policy Paper: Online Marketplaces and Product Safety, November 2019

Report of the Service Director, Economy, Innovation and Growth


The Committee received a report updating on a publication by Which? ‘Online Marketplaces and Product Safety’ in November 2019.


Research and testing by Which? regularly find large numbers of unsafe consumer products being sold via sellers on online marketplaces, ranging from smoke alarms to child car seats.  Online marketplaces have become a common way for millions of shoppers to buy online from an expanding pool of global sellers: 9 in 10 (91%) of people have bought consumer goods this way.  Consumers value the lower prices  and wide choice that these marketplaces can offer, but it is the view taken by Which? that consumer protections have failed to keep pace and fall short of more traditional retailers.


Many people assume that online marketplaces are responsible for making sure that the products sold on their platforms are safe, removing unsafe products from sale and notifying customers when something goes wrong.  But this is not the case – legally it is the sellers that consumers largely have to rely on to assure safety.


The survey carried out by Which? of online marketplace shoppers in September 2019, found that only 21% were aware that online marketplaces have no legal responsibility for overseeing product safety on their sites.  Online marketplaces, which include Amazon Marketplace, Facebook, ebay and for example, are exempt from liability unless they are aware of illegal content.  This leave consumer vulnerable, particularly when many of the sellers and product originate outside the UK.  70% of marketplace users think the law needs changing so that marketplaces are legally responsible.


Which? Takes the view that regulation is required to strengthen the legal

responsibilities of online marketplaces and ensure that public authorities have

adequate powers, tools and resources to require action from marketplaces when consumers are put at risk. The organisation also takes the view that the

voluntary nature of current checks by marketplaces fails to recognise their role

as the primary interface for consumers with the technical, as well as commercial, ability to hold their suppliers to account for consumer safety.


Which? Takes the view that clearer government guidance is needed while this

legislation is being drafted and implemented, in line with the Codes of Practice

envisaged in the Online Harms White Paper.


Which? have identified the following actions which if feels are needed.


·         Online marketplaces should be required to ensure that consumer products offered for sale by sellers on their sites are safe.

·         The actions that are required by online marketplaces when unsafe products are identified should be clarified.

·         Enforcement officers should be equipped with appropriate powers, resources, investigatory skills and intelligence to police online marketplaces and platforms and the supply networks that underpin them.

·         There should be great transparency obligations so that consumers are clear who they are buying from.


UK Law should place a requirement on online marketplace to make it clear to people whether they are buying from a trader, rather than another consumer, and implement recently adopted EU law that requires this after EU exit.


RESOLVED -  That the information contained within the report be noted.


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