It's becoming common to shop online rather than take time out from our busy lives to physically visit a shop. The convenience, range of choice, and often better prices, make buying online incredibly attractive. But don't be caught out: there are some nasty surprises awaiting the unwary!
Shopping online is often the easiest way to buy gear, and it's safe if you shop through a well-known and established retailer. Of course, if fit is critical to performance it can be wiser to shop in person. But many retailers now offer hassle-free returns, making purchasing such items a much more viable option.
The real lottery begins when you start using general online sales sites, such as eBay and Amazon. Among the genuine and legitimate sellers are some very dubious ones. All sorts of things can turn up on these sites, some of which we'll detail to help you avoid being caught out.
Is your product certified?
We recommend to only buy products which conform to the relevant CEN or UIAA standard, which is usually mentioned in the product description. The product will also be marked and have instructions attached which include the details of any certification.
What is a non-certified product?
Currently the internet is awash with non-certified products. These are any kind of product that fail to meet the certification or standards which would apply if they were sold in the UK. The product might actually work and may even be of reasonable quality, but the buyer has no way of knowing this.
In the past, such products were often unbranded, but the modern trend is for them to have a brand name of some kind. We've seen examples of items including ropes, harnesses, and helmets.
Non-certified and incredibly dangerous crampons that were bought online.
One buyer received an unpleasant shock, which could have ended up being fatal. The crampons they'd recently bought simply folded up while out climbing, becoming useless and dangerous. They were fortunate not to have to call out the Mountain Rescue team, or worse.
Unfortunately, it's almost impossible to shut this type of trader down; if their online store closed down they simply spring up under a different name.
A non-certified rope that is not strong enough to catch almost any lead fall.
This rope was found online for sale as a climbing rope, uncertified and claiming a 3kN breaking load. That's about the same strength as certified 4mm accessory cord, assuming the claim is true, of which there is no guarantee.
Counterfeit products are rare but do occasionally show up. As you'd expect, these are a serious case of fraud where a rogue manufacturer blatantly tries to pass a product off as something it isn't. These can be hard to spot even by an expert and manufacturers rely on consumers reporting anything which they have purchased which seems suspect. Things to look out for are price offers which seem too good to be true, or poor quality products from a usually good manufacturer.
These fake copies of Petzl crampons were found for sale online.
Unlike the previous examples, second hand sales are usually made by individuals rather than a business. Most items are sold in good faith, but the buyer must take into account the risks in buying critical safety equipment from a stranger. You take a risk buying items with an unknown history, and there also is the possibility that the goods have been stolen.
If buying second hand, it's best to stick to buying unused items still in their packaging. The next least risky are items which can be readily checked for their safety (if you know what you're doing) such as karabiners. It's much trickier to check textile items which can be affected more by aging and storage conditions, so it's best to avoid these completely.
This second hand helmet was sold with the buyer being informed that it was damaged but that this probably wouldn't affect the safety of the product. Our experience tells us otherwise.
Now you know the potential pitfalls, you should be able to shop online with more confidence and vet the sellers accordingly. If you're ever unsure, it's best to err on the side of caution.
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