John Lewis and Mamas & Papas finished bottom of the table in the mystery shopper investigation by Which? and Good Egg Safety, but staff in nine in ten (89%) visits across a range of retailers failed to ask all key safety questions recommended by experts and manufacturers.
Mystery shoppers posing as customers who wanted to upgrade a baby car seat for a 9kg nine-month-old baby visited 213 branches of high street chains and independent retailers, marking each salesperson with a “fail” if they did not ask all the key questions. Nine out of 10 shop visits failed to ask all key safety questions.
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.”
Essential questions included details about the baby’s weight, height and age, the type of vehicle, if the seat would be used in any other vehicles and if the car had ISOfix connectors or a top-tether point, as well as a demonstration of how it should be safely installed.
All 12 John Lewis stores visited failed to ask all the required questions, as did all seven of the Mamas and Papas stores. Halfords was the top performer despite 71 out of the 86 stores visited failing to ask all questions.
The investigation also found 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, and in 18% of visits staff failed to ask the vital question of the make and model of car.
Stopford continued: “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.”
A spokesperson for Mamas and Papas said: “Because car seat safety is so important to us, we have a partnership with Car Seat Safety Ltd to ensure that staff receive industry leading training that meets all regulatory requirements.
“Every Mamas and Papas store has an Institution of Occupational Safety and Health-accredited car seat expert and all colleagues are trained to follow a comprehensive check list during the sale process. We have asked Which? to confirm which Mamas and Papas stores featured in this research so that we can provide colleagues in these stores with refresher training if necessary.”
John Lewis’s spokesperson said: “We treat the selling of car seats with the utmost seriousness and have invested significant resource and training in this area to get it right for our customers.
“We ensure every nursery partner attends and passes a two-day car seat training course, independently run by the leading car seat training provider in the UK. We also have mystery shops carried out by a third party, following up on all subsequent advice to ensure the quality of our training. We have asked Which? to release their methodology and would value the opportunity to discuss it further with them.”
Good Egg Safety said they want to see all sales assistants selling child car seats using a ‘Safety Assessment Form’. “We want to see parents asking for this to be used,” they said in a statement. “This lists all the key questions that need asking, so that no vital safety information is missed. Some retailers say they have these forms, but 86% of of the store staff we mystery shopped did not use one - the results could have been a lot different with this simple check in place.”
Until this happens, they encourage all parents to download their ‘seat buying check list’ and ‘retailer safety assessment form’ to take with them when buying a child car seat.
So what questions should you be asked as a parent buying a car seat?
Good Egg Safety have listed out the six main questions parents should be asked, as well as a few additional safety issues that should be addressed.
1. What’s your baby’s weight, height and age?
Many baby car seats are chosen by weight or height, and keeping a baby in a lower group seat is considered better than moving up a seat too soon. 95% of stores they visited asked the age of the child rather than the child’s weight or height. “Age is a starting point, but it’s not the best way to select a child car seat,” advise Good Egg Safety. “Asking the child’s weight and height, too, will help to ensure the right car seat can be recommended, especially if the baby isn’t with you.”
2. What vehicle do you have?
Not all car seats fit in every car, so it’s vital that staff ask this question to ensure they can select the correct seat. However, 18% of assistants we questioned didn’t ask what car the seat would go in.
3. Will you be using the car seat in any other vehicles?
Assistants should also ask about any other cars the seat will be used in, to ensure any car seats recommended will be compatible. 54% of assistants they visited completely missed asking this question, but went on to recommend car seats anyway.
4. Does your car have ISOfix connectors?
Almost a third (29%) failed to ask if the car had ISOfix connectors. If a car does not have Isofix connectors, this will affect the seat recommendation.
5. Does your car have a top-tether point?
Not all cars have a top-tether point. Just over a third of visits (34%) didn’t mention top tether when discussing ISOfix. This could affect which car seat should be recommended.
6. Does your car have underfloor storage?
81% of those sales assistants visited failed to ask if the car had underfloor storage, which could lead to the wrong car seat being recommended. “In some cars, a child car seat using a support leg, can’t be used in a seating position with underfloor storage,” Good Egg Safety advised. “However the majority of assistants did not mention underfloor storage at all or give advice about why this could be an issue.”
Other key safety issues that are getting ignored include a fit list check (check the seat is compatible with the car), demonstrating the fitting of the car seat and explaining the benefits of rear-facing for longer.
To find out more about car seat safety, read our guide here.