Parents who buy a child car seat without going into a store to get the right advice and safety demonstration could be putting their children at risk, according to new consumer research.
A study by Whatcar.com revealed 80% of major retail chains selling child car seats have trained experts in-store who can advise on the most suitable seat to buy and demonstrate how to fit the seat safely.
However, buying online, second-hand or from catalogue or warehouse retailers such as Argos could result in the wrong products being bought and seats being fitted dangerously.
In a mystery shop carried out by Whatcar.com, Argos had a wide range of car seats on sale but staff were unable to advise on the suitability of the products for either the customer’s vehicle or child, nor were they able to demonstrate how to fit the seats safely.
In contrast, specialist retailers like Mamas & Papas and Mothercare had experts on hand to dispense advice and demonstrations, as well as a free car seat fitting service. Mamas & Papas even has a website booking system to reserve time with the in-store experts.
Jim Holder, editorial director of Whatcar.com, said: “The nature of stores like Argos means that, while they sell a very wide range of different products in general, staff cannot be expected to give expert advice on even safety-critical products.”
A spokesperson for Argos said: “As a responsible retailer, Argos takes customer safety extremely seriously, especially concerning products designed for children. We have stringent processes in place to ensure that car seats in our range comply with the required EU safety standards. We offer a wide variety of car seats and fitting advice is included online but we do not offer that as a service in store.”
Online shopping has increased rapidly over the last 10 years and spending is set to increase by 45% to reach £62.7 billion by 2020.
Meanwhile, the wide range of categories for child car seats has led to confusion among consumers about which type of car seat is most suitable for their baby or young child.
A new European car seat safety regulation, called i-Size, will also be introduced in the near future. It will set out the criteria a seat must adhere to before it can go on sale and will also classify car seats by a child’s height rather than weight. This is to avoid the common problem of parents moving children from rear-facing infant seats to forward-facing ones too early.
Holder said: “Keeping children safe in the car is a responsibility that every parent takes seriously. But finding the right car seat and fitting it correctly is something of a minefield.
“There is a wide range of seats available and few parents really understand their categorisation. With the new European safety regulation, i-Size, coming into force at some stage in the future, the decision-making process is about to become even more clouded.
“With that in mind, it will be even more important to take the time and effort to make the right choice. That means physically going into the best specialist retailers, spending time with the trained staff to get the best advice and trying the seats out in your car yourself, rather than relying on catalogue descriptions or online reviews.”
The latest copy of What Car? magazine, on sale now, features a six-page advice piece about how to go about choosing the right car seat, including explanations of all current and future regulations.