Parents are being warned about the risk of buying cheap, unbranded toys online after a new Which? investigation found more than 40% of toys it bought from online marketplaces failed safety tests.

The not-for-profit 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.

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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. While 16 of the 28 toys Which? tested passed safety tests, five of the products that failed tests were sold on Wish. Three were sold on eBay and AliExpress respectively and one was available on Amazon Marketplace.

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. Which? also found two toys that had either magnets or batteries that could be easily accessed, which could cause serious injuries if swallowed.

Which? shared its investigation with the four online marketplaces and all 12 products that failed have since been removed from sale.

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.’

The BTHA has been testing toys for three years from third-party sellers via online marketplace platforms. Unfortunately, we were not surprised to see the results of the Which? report which reflected our own findings.

Natasha Brookes, director of public affairs and communications at the British Toy & Hobby Association

Natasha Brookes, director of public affairs and communications at the British Toy & Hobby Association (BTHA), commented: “The BTHA has been testing toys for three years from third-party sellers via online marketplace platforms. Unfortunately, we were not surprised to see the results of the Which? report which reflected our own findings. By testing 100 toys last year we found 86% were illegal and 60% were unsafe – it is simply unacceptable to have this level of non-compliance in the marketplace.

“The government is currently reviewing the future product safety regime in the UK and the BTHA is advocating for changes to the law to make marketplaces take responsibility for vetting sellers and products to ensure only safe toys are put into the hands of children.

“Responsible toy suppliers invest heavily in making safe toys, responsible retailers have a legal responsibility for checking toys have been made safely – we want to see the law recognise the role of online platforms in bringing toys to market, so that all children in the UK can enjoy safe playtime.”

The most dangerous product found was a 51-piece doctor’s playset – described as a toy for a baby or toddler – sold on Wish that 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,’ Which? claimed.

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 sold on Amazon Marketplace also failed Which? safety tests. Which? said the toy ‘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.

Right of reply:

An AliExpress spokesperson said: “The safety of our customers is of paramount importance to AliExpress. After being contacted by Which?, we took swift action and removed the affected products. As a marketplace-based business, the sale by merchants of products that violate the Product Listing Policy of AliExpress is prohibited. We have policies and procedures to identify violations and take action. We will continue to take action against sellers who violate our terms of use.”

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? said it also reached out to the sellers that 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 [5 August].

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