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Safety Concerns Amid Electrical and Plumbing Parts Supplied by “Discount Websites”

  • Written by Daily Sun

Valarie’s new water pump broke down almost immediately.  And she was one of the lucky ones.

When Valerie saw a submersible pump on her favourite discount shopping app, the bargain was too good to resist.  After receiving quotes of around $250 for the specifications she needed, she was excited to find an unknown brand with all the right specs for just $49 on the marketplace.  The pump promised to deliver a steady stream of water from a distance of 25 meters from its submersed position powered only by the solar set up in the caravan.  PERFECT.  

The site promised that over a thousand of the same model had been sold.  The seller had completed over 12,000 sales through the marketplace and a 4.5 star rating.  It all seemed like a pretty safe bet.  But no.  The problems started before the pump was even delivered.  It took three months to arrive with no communication from the seller.  

First, the pump wouldn’t work with her existing solar set up, despite it being exactly what was specified in the ad.   With a few work arounds, and a $50 spent at a hardware store for “parts not included” she and her partner Michael managed to get the pump running.  For a few minutes.  In those few minutes, it pumped a lackluster trickle of water, less than five meters, before giving up for dead.  She later learned that the sudden death of her new pump was a stroke of luck, as the same model had delivered a nasty electric shock to a fellow camper.

When she complained, the seller simply marked the model as “discontinued”.  Her 1 star review became lost amongst a sea of complaints about all kinds of electrical products supplied by the seller.  But, what of that 4.5 star average that convinced her to buy in the first place?  Almost all the seller’s 5 star reviews were for a $1 roll of tape, and most were from the week they launched on the marketplace.  

“As a caravan manufacturer, we decided that we couldn’t take the risk with electrics and hydraulics fitted overseas.  While you can vet your supplier so carefully, you cannot audit the entire supply chain of products involved in electrical and hydraulic installation – rather than risk it, and our customer’s safety, we do all our installations here in Australia.  We are often shocked at the terrible quality of electrical goods in our competitor’s vans, we won’t risk it” said Karen Perry of Jawa Caravans Sydney.

Electrical Safety Issues

The rise of the “cheap and cheerful”, highly unregulated marketplace has spawned complaints not just about the quality and safety of the products, but in relation to credit card fraud, phone hacking, data mining and identity theft.  These marketplaces have also been linked to slave labour.  Choice Magazine, Which and the OECD all report that toys and electrical goods are among the most dangerous items to purchase online.  One study found 75% of electrical chargers tested failed to meet safety standards.  

“Submersible pumps are an electrical unit permanently fitted in water or other liquid.  One flaw in a cheaply made seal, one flaw in the earthing of the unit, and you could end up dead.  The only way to safely install submersible pumps is to use a model that meets Australian safety standards and engage qualified electricians and plumbers.” Said John Salmon, of the Master Plumbers’ Association of Queensland and Salmon Plumbers Brisbane

Banned and Recalled Products 

The OECD found that 68% of 693 products banned or recalled products were still being sold online, often through discount marketplaces.  A whopping 55% of products examined by the OECD report did not comply with Australian mandatory product safety standards.  

“This becomes a two-fold problem for commercial entities as the legal liability for using a faulty product lays with the business.  Commercial plumbing and electrical fittings and fixtures don’t just impact a single user, but members of the public and staff.  This leaves business open to terrible liability all to save a few dollars.” Said Mr Salmon.

No recourse for Valerie

Unfortunately the ACCC cannot act on behalf of Valerie and the rising number of complainants like her.  While marketplaces like Shein produce their own products, the majority act as resellers for independent manufacturers and retailers, including Amazon Marketplace, Ebay, Wish, Temu and AliExpress.  The reseller business model places legal responsibility on the manufacturer but may discontinue the distribution of products that fail to meet the marketplace policy.   In other words, they have the legal right to “pass the buck” on individual infringements.  The question becomes “is it worth it to pursue this”.  Usually, it’s not.


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