Car seat retailers ‘putting lives at risk’: Which?

11.55 | 14 September 2018 | | | 9 comments

John Lewis and Mamas & Papas have finished ‘bottom of the table’ in a new Which? mystery shop investigation into child car seat retailers.

The consumer champion – in partnership with Good Egg Safety – sent mystery shoppers posing as customers who wanted to upgrade a baby car seat to more than 200 branches of high street chains and independent retailers.

In each store, sales assistants were assessed on their ability to ask ‘all of the key safety questions recommended by experts and manufacturers’.

In nine out of 10 mystery shop visits (89%), staff failed to ask all of these questions.

John Lewis and Mamas & Papas were the worst performers, with what was judged by Which? to be a ‘100% fail rate’, with none of the stores asking all the relevant safety questions when advising on which car seat to buy.

Despite a ‘high fail rate of 83%’, Halfords was the best performer in the mystery shop. In 38% of its Scottish branches, sales assistants asked all the relevant questions, while in England only two out of 52 stores successfully asked all the key questions.  

Independent stores performed better than most major car seat retailers, with a ‘fail rate of 90%’.

Nearly a quarter of stores (23%) did not offer fitting demonstrations.

Which? and Good Egg Safety believe it should be mandatory for sales assistants to use a consultation form when speaking with customers to ‘make sure important safety information is not missed’.

Nikki Stopford, director of research and publishing at Which?, said: “This is another disappointingly poor service from retailers who previously promised to improve the quality of safety advice they give to customers shopping for child car seats.

“Retailers have told us that staff are trained to the highest standards. This alone clearly isn’t working so retailers must urgently introduce checklists to make sure staff are asking all the important safety questions when advising customers.”

Jan James, CEO at Good Egg Safety, said: “These are extremely disappointing results. Following last year’s independent checks commissioned by Good Egg Safety, we shared all of the information with retailers in our national joint industry group meeting.

“They were given the information in great detail and understood the methodology. Nothing has changed, nothing should be a surprise.

“One of the main issues… is sales assistants are not completing a safety assessment form at the point of sale. In a busy store…without a consultation form, some of these critical questions are being missed.

“We see the results in our child car seat events where almost 70%, on average, are incorrectly fitted to either child or car.”



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    You can often make insightful and helpful comments but, sadly, this isn’t one of them.

    Car salespeople are selling cars to those who have a licence to drive. While they may not always be great drivers, they’ve passed their DVSA tests.

    Parents aren’t licenced to buy. They have no prior training. They trust the ‘expert’ to give them the best information possible for their precious child. In many cases they are not getting this.

    It is also nonsense to suggest that a good child car seat (suitable for child/car) cannot help reduce injuries in a collision. We have several photos where the car is a virtual wreck yet the child seat (and the child contained within it) are intact.

    I’ll repeat again that child seat specialists have the burden of duty to demonstrate best practice every time. Every time. It’s not happening and it needs to happen soon.

    Jan James CEO Good Egg Safety, Saffron Walden
    Agree (1) | Disagree (1)

    Should car salesmen therefore also have a responsibility to ensure that the person they are selling a car to is competent and safe to drive it? Puts it into perspective.

    Similarly, if I buy brake parts to fit to my car, the motor factor does not check that I am competent to fit them. An appropriate car seat, correctly fitted, does not prevent a collision nor make the occupant immune to death and injury.

    Hugh Jones
    Agree (9) | Disagree (11)

    Statement from Good Egg Safety:

    It is a sad fact that there will always be people who wish to discredit those who question the status quo. Those who campaign for what they believe is important. Those who inadvertently step on toes in their determination to fix something which is broken.

    To be crystal clear; child safety when travelling in cars is currently seriously compromised.

    Compromised by lack of budget/resources. Compromised by competing demands. Compromised by vested interests. Compromised by confusing legislation where two laws run concurrently. On the latter point, in particular, this means that you can break the law using the same category seat depending on which legislation that seat is classified under. Rear facing is mandatory to 15 months with R129, and yet a baby can be legally turned around to forward face after only 9kg (around 9 months old) with R44.04

    For eighteen depressingly long years, Good Egg and partners have been relentlessly campaigning for safer fitment of child seats; YET we are still seeing almost 70% of seats with errors. Over one third with MAJOR errors. Errors that could result in the death or serious injury of an infant.

    Over the last few years, Good Egg has commissioned an independent research company to check the advice given to parents, grandparents and carers. The results speak for themselves:

    2015- 82 stores tested (64% fail)
    2016 -51 stores tested (78% fail)
    2017 -146 stores tested (93% fail)
    2018 -213 stores tested (89% fail)

    Each time, we freely shared these results with retailers. Down to the last detail of brand/store location/personnel. This was in the hope we could eradicate the issue. It hasn’t.

    At our National Joint Industry Group meetings, we have clearly and unambiguously stated – and I’ll say it again now – there is something almost fraudulent about any organisation which positions itself as a child seat specialist, if they don’t give the best (and safest) advice. Every time.

    People trust them. They believe in them. And they often refuse to get their child seats checked at our free car seat events based on that implicit trust. Only two weeks ago one of our experts was told, in no uncertain terms, to ‘go away’ (F word expletive) when he pointed out serious routing errors. Errors which might result in catastrophic injury.

    Why? Because the father had bought his seat from a ‘child seat specialist’ and they had recently fitted it for him. This scenario is not uncommon.

    It cannot, of course, be solely blamed on any one group (in this instance the retailers). It is far greater than that. Parents have to take responsibility. Many do, as we see from the mums and dads who engage in our blogs, share our videos and own up to wishing they’d known sooner. Many don’t.

    Government HAS to take responsibility. Our high street retailers are fighting a losing battle. Online sales are eroding this important resource we currently have, alongside high staff turnover and dwindling margins. It’s almost impossible for them to compete in the current climate as they are not operating on a level playing field.

    We know they are trying their best. Investing ever more time and resource to try and get this right. It’s a herculean task. Which is why, until now, we have never supported the release of their names.

    It cannot continue. The system is flawed. It is our sincere hope that this will be the last time. That instead of ‘shooting the messenger’ we can, instead, use this to galvanise serious action.

    Government investment. Greater resources and funding for hard pressed road safety officers. Mandatory and extensive training (both classroom and online) with regular ongoing mentoring for all child seat advisers and a legal requirement for them to complete a comprehensive safety assessment form during each and every sales process. A ban on child seat sales in places that cannot offer expertise (Amazon, Argos, Supermarkets). A ban on second-hand car seat sales.

    Inconvenient? Yes.

    Difficult to implement? Yes

    Costly? Yes.

    Our children are worth it.

    We still dream of the day when incorrect fitment is completely eradicated. Where children rear face for as long as they possibly can. And, where the unacceptable number of children killed or seriously injured in cars is halted and eradicated to the highest possible degree. They deserve nothing less.

    If you disagree, please identify yourself and explain why. Then we can have a conversation about it and get it out into the light. Those who criticize and remain anonymous will be assumed to have a vested interest.

    Jan James CEO Good Egg Safety, Saffron Walden
    Agree (15) | Disagree (9)

    Why should the check list only be used by inexperienced staff? The MOT check list HAS to be followed by garages, the police HAVE to follow the check list when recording an accident, Surgeons HAVE to follow a tick list before & after an operation.

    The check list is an aid memoir and is designed to coax out info that maybe missed. The majority of the fails were around additional cars, that might have obvious issues but may highlight that a car is going to be changed soon…it would instil confidence and for the retailer give them an opportunity to sell the benefits of additional safety features, so a win win.

    With around a 90% fail rate, its evident that regardless of experience thing can and are being missed.

    As for parents, I agree they should take some responsibility but as I pointed out to the manufacturers in many urban/deprived areas the average reading age is 8-9yrs so we cannot push it all onto the parents

    Allan Robins
    Agree (6) | Disagree (1)

    Reading the which article, it appears that all the questions that were on the good egg site needed to be asked for a pass to be achieved. Surely a crib sheet would only be used by inexperienced staff. For example, once I know the parent’s car, I would already know about isofix, top tether and whether a storage box might undermine a prop. I would even question whether a 9 month, 9 kilo baby needs a new seat yet.

    Surely at the end of the day, the responsibility to fit the car seat correctly is with the parent. They only need to follow the instructions which come with the seat. Sales staff are not trainers and it is interesting to note that the best trained staff scored worse. Maybe knowledge and experience did not suit the method employed.

    Even the good egg website has reduced the number of questions it advises a parent should ask down from the 11 listed in the mystery shop to 5.

    I admire Good Egg’s motivation, they are a campaigning group so they use emotive, headline grabbing language.

    In my view, we should be careful not to undermine good training and ensure that we don’t take responsibility away from parents.

    Cheis, South London
    Agree (8) | Disagree (5)

    This event was meant to be a wake up call for the industry that if you are selling safety equipment then there needs to be a standard format for advising.

    There has been quite a lot of work behind the scenes with retailers/manufacturers/Public Sector/ENCAP to name a few and although its the retailers that are taking the heat in this survey, ALL have their part to play including the manufacturers.

    My understanding is that if a check sheet had been used (similar to the one Good Egg use at their car seat clinics) then the results would have been probably flipped. You have a check sheet for an MOT so why not one to protect your most valuable belonging? In addition work is ongoing to provide an online training package to supplement what the retailers provide so they can have refreshers at minimal cost.

    Hopefully this will be the wake up call for all parties to standardise and move forward

    Allan Robins
    Agree (8) | Disagree (2)

    A fuller copy of the article is available on the Which? website. As it is safety related I think this link is available to all, not just Which? members.

    It may answer some of the questions posed…

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (10) | Disagree (1)

    Without all the key information or full understanding of the aims and objectives of this venture, it’s difficult to comment on specifics or in full.

    However as a parent and road safety practitioner it appears to me this report is likely to push people away from seeking professional advice and fitting services and encourage them to buy online or from a retailer that offers no advice or fitting service. What logic is that ?

    This worries me, as most of the children I see put at risk result from the incorrect fitting or use of a child car seat by the end user and has nothing to do with the advice given by retailers.

    I’m baffled as to why anybody would rather publish a dambing report than want to work with retailers to improve a standard and encourage people to seek retail advice and fitting services.

    Next time I visit a Doctor should I be concerned if they don’t ask me if I intend to be I’ll again in a month or so?

    Education is key for all those involved as the ones at risk are children who have little or no influence.

    Is there not a retailers forum where these “findings” could have been shared, discussed, adressed, resolved and then a positive outcome reported on ?

    I’m unsure of the intentions of this story, but I would encourage all careers and parents to check out resources like the FREE Car Seat Smarter package ( as it helps address the knowledge gap and is part of the solution and not part of the problem.

    Dave Adams, Somerset
    Agree (14) | Disagree (6)

    The team at Child Seat Safety welcome all attempts to improve child car seat safety and clearly, the findings of Which?’s investigation appear to be concerning.

    It seems on the face of it that the results are quite damaging to the car seat industry and especially these retailers and their staff, yet in our experience of working alongside them, they are doing a good job. Our training has helped develop their skills so that they are fully aware of the issues and can eliminate unsuitable seats for a customer by asking some simple questions. There are numerous situations where questions will not need to be asked, because of the existing knowledge of the retailer.

    There are potentially thousands of possible combinations for all the cars and child seats that are on the market, without even including the different sizes of children using them. So, without hearing each specific response given, to a specific scenario suggested by the mystery shopper, it is in our view not possible to suggest that the store failed.

    Child Seat Safety Ltd
    Agree (24) | Disagree (8)

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