Facebook marketplace
Facebook Marketplace was identified as the most concerning online marketplace for consumer protection. JOEL SAGET/AFP

In a new national survey published by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI), Facebook Marketplace emerged as the online marketplace causing the most concern among consumer protection professionals and Trading Standards. The survey identified an uproar in complaints about sales of counterfeit, poor-quality, and potentially unsafe goods on the online platform.

Trading Standards Officers and Consumer protection professionals criticised the platform, which allows third-party vendors to trade goods on its site, for being sluggish or obstructive when asked about issue sellers. Facebook Marketplace has also been reprimanded for taking too long to take action against problem sellers and for allowing false product descriptions, counterfeit goods, and possibly deadly products to return on the site after they had been removed.

Based on replies from over 50 Local Authorities across the UK, the CTSI survey discovered that more than half (53%) of respondents named Facebook as the most complained-about online marketplace, outnumbering all other platforms combined. eBay, Amazon, Wish, OnBuy, AliExpress, Etsy, Vinted, TikTok Shop, and NotOnTheHighStreet were all regularly chastised.

The research further indicated the struggles faced by Trading Standards Officers in prosecuting online marketplaces. It revealed that the great majority (90%) of officers have been unable to prosecute online markets.

A lack of cooperation from online marketplaces was noted as a recurring issue by nearly half (45%). Additionally, almost two-thirds (63%) believe the law as it exists is unfit for purpose. Furthermore, when attempting to contact merchants on online marketplaces, 57 per cent received no response.

A further reported 59 per cent stated they couldn't find information on where third-party merchants on internet marketplaces are located. Due to a lack of time and resources, 29 per cent of respondents indicated they are unable to handle concerns regarding online marketplaces. Because of these three barriers, only 10 per cent of Trading Standards Officers reported being able to take action against online markets.

CTSI has identified difficulties affecting consumers who use online markets through its collaboration with the APPG on Consumer Protection. The APPG's evidence-gathering sessions coincide with the recent publication of the Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill, which contains provisions to establish a Digital Markets Unit with the authority to hold internet companies accountable.

Facebook Marketplace, which was launched in 2016, allows individuals to buy and sell things on social media. In 2018, approximately 800 million users utilised the marketplace on a monthly basis to purchase, sell, or browse things. Facebook Shops was made available in 2020 to assist businesses in strengthening their digital presence.

The investigation by CTSI into Facebook Marketplace aligns with the release of the Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill by UK MPs. The bill aims to establish a Digital Markets Unit with the power to hold internet companies responsible for their actions.

David Mackenzie, CTSI's lead officer for e-Commerce, acknowledged the positive provisions within the Digital Markets and Consumers Bill, emphasising the need for Trading Standards to adapt to the digital realm. He called for modernising Trading Standards authorities, granting them proper access to information held by businesses under investigation, and equipping them with takedown powers for illicit online content.

He added that they also want to see additional responsibilities for online marketplaces, such as informing buyers whether or not a seller is in business. Furthermore, the CTSI lead officer stated that the fulfilment houses should be held accountable for the safety and compliance of products imported directly to customers without the involvement of a traditional commercial importer.

Sue Davies, Which?'s Head of Consumer Protection Policy, expressed worry over the prevalence of harmful products on Facebook Marketplace, emphasising the platform's failure to prevent their reinstatement after they were removed. Similar problems have been reported on other internet markets, according to Davies.

She urged the government to hold online marketplaces legally responsible for stopping the sale of risky products and responding quickly to notifications of dangerous items. Davies saw this as a key change that should be done following the Office for Product Safety and Standards' (OPSS) long-overdue product safety study.