Shocking footage shows main retailers not fitting child car seats safely

A BBC investigation reveals John Lewis and Mothercare are among the UK's car seat retailers who are failing to fit children's car seats correctly and giving the wrong advice

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A new investigation into car seat installation safety has found that five major high-street retailers either fitted car seats incorrectly or gave customers dangerous advice more than 90% of the time.

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John Lewis, Toys R Us, Mothercare, Halfords and Smyths Toy Stores were secretly filmed by the BBC programme Watchdog. The programme makers went to 50 stores around the UK, taking with the stores’ own-brand Group 2/3 car seats and asked for them to installed.

Using hidden cameras, it filmed the staff demonstrating how to fit the Group 2/3 seats, which are for children who weigh over 15kg (around 4 years old). The footage was then shown to experts Julie Dagnall and Claire Waterhouse from Child Seat Safety.

The disturbing results

Shockingly Julie and Claire found that almost all car seat installations were incorrect. They also found that 19 out of 50 stores failed to ask about the child’s height and weight when selling the seats.

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Even more troublingly, 20 of the 50 stores didn’t point out that the seat needs to be fitted as tightly as possible to the car.

Watchdog claims that the worst installations were at John Lewis and Mothercare, as the staff members put the seatbelts in entirely the wrong place on the seat.

According to the show only one store across 50, a John Lewis branch, got the fitting right.

Incredibly, these findings mirror the results of an investigation conducted by Which? in 2014, which found 90% of high-street retailers could not fit two branded car seats correctly.  

Which car seats were involved?

Only one age group of car seats was used in this investigation – Group 2/3 car seats – and didn’t involve the fitting of car seats for babies (Group 0+) or toddlers (Group 1). The car seats used required a seat belt to fit them (so they weren’t ISOFIX car seats or those that click into a base). 

What the retailers say

Responding to the Watchdog footage, all five retailers expressed disappointment in the findings and said they will all invest in car seat installation training. 

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Each retailer issued a statement, with Mothercare giving the most “Hands up, we got it wrong” response.

Interestingly John Lewis and Toys R Us seemed to be looking to pin at least some of the blame on the fact that the programme makers had brought along their own car seats. This is an unusual situation, but we think car seat store advisors should be able to fit all seats, or, if they can’t, admit it and find out the information. They should not be demonstrating car seats they can’t fit correctly. 

Here’s what the stores had to say…

John Lewis says:

“At John Lewis, we set very high standards of customer service and we aim to differentiate ourselves from other retailers through the expertise of our Partners (staff) and the knowledgeable product advice they provide. We want all our customers to receive the best advice possible so they can use our products safely. To achieve this, we place a huge emphasis on the importance of training across all 37 of our shops that sell car seats.

“We review our standards with independent industry bodies and incorporate their advice to ensure the quality of our training. Partners have access to a range of other support tools including an advice check-list and a set of key questions that ensure customers get the right seat to suit their exact requirements. We also provide online and in store training for Partners.

“We want to point out that the scenario portrayed by Watchdog is an extremely unusual one for us. Very few customers bring previously bought seats to our stores for advice on installation – as the Watchdog team did. Normally we give advice as part of the sales process.

“Whether it was an unusual scenario or not, the advice Watchdog reporters received didn’t meet our own high standards and we are taking immediate action to investigate and rectify this. We are reinforcing our existing procedures, carrying out a full independent review and implementing a complete retraining programme for staff.

“We appreciate that the findings of Watchdog may cause concern to some customers but we are confident in the quality of our products and service – serving many satisfied customers through our Nursery teams each year. If any customer would like to speak to us about our products or services, they should visit our shops or call our dedicated telephone line 0161 495 5011.”

Mothercare says:

“It is extremely disappointing to see the results of the Watchdog investigation and we are reviewing the findings with the greatest urgency.

“Nothing at Mothercare is treated with more importance and seriousness than the safety of a child. The welfare of our customers and their children is our absolute priority.

“We currently invest heavily in training across our organisation and run intensive training courses for all members of staff responsible for fitting car seats. Only those who have been trained and certified are permitted to advise on car seat fitting and this accounts for three out of every five members of store personnel.

“Following these findings, we have commissioned an immediate and nationwide review into all our processes for car seat fitting to ensure that our staff training and customer advice meets the safest standards. As part of this we will ensure with immediate effect, that any car seat fitted in any of our stores where we fit car seats, is checked and signed off by a trained member of our team. We will also ensure that the end-fit is always explicitly explained to the customer. Furthermore, we will continue to work with our car seat suppliers to improve staff training, both in terms of training hours and the quality of the training, to ensure that it translates into consistent, best-practice advice and guidance in all our car seat fitting stores.

“We take the findings of this investigation extremely seriously and have implemented immediate changes which will result in a more robust and comprehensive approach to safety.”

Halfords says:

“We take all feedback on our services very seriously and it is not acceptable to us that we have any customer who is unsatisfied with the service our knowledgeable fitters provide. Our 3,000 fitters, who have completed training independently accredited by the Royal Society of the Prevention of Accidents, fit over 28,000 car seats a year across our 468 stores.

“We are confident in our high standards of training and independent accreditation. That said, we are disappointed by some of the findings on the programme and will review our processes in light of this. Please visit Halfords.com or call customer services on 01527 505615 for further information.”

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Toys R Us says:

“There is nothing more important than the safety of the children and families we serve, and we are very disappointed in the results of the test shop

“We will of course investigate each individual demonstration but at this stage consider that our advisor’s approach may have been influenced in some cases by the fact that the item had already been purchased. This may have led our advisor to focus less on the weight, age and physical development of the child because the shopper had already decided on the car seat required. When helping a customer to select a car seat our advisors are trained to firstly identify suitable seats by asking about weight, age and physical development.

“We have developed our Car Seat Fitting Training Programme in conjunction with Child Seat Safety, Which Consumer Group and with our vendors. This year we have worked directly with Child Seat Safety to train, to an IOSH accredited standard, key members of our team. Every Babies R Us advisor qualified to demonstrate a car seat fitting has received training directly by Child Seat Safety to an IOSH accredited standard or by a trainer trained by Child Seat Safety.

“Throughout the year we have received excellent feedback from many Babies R Us customers who have been impressed by the standards of service and advice our advisors have given

“Clearly there are opportunities for us to improve the advice we give and we will review our existing training in the light of these results. We are committed to working with experts in the field, including Child Seat Safety, to ensure the advice and service we provide to our customers is to the necessary high standards in the important area of car seat safety.”

Smyths says:

“In the light of Watchdog’s research, we are putting additional focus on staff training for car seat installation. In addition – prior to Watchdog’s research – Smyths Toys were developing clear installation videos for fitting car seats.  Consumers can see the video for the Dimples Elite car seat.”

What can I do to make sure your car seat is safe?

We recommend you get your car seat fitted by a trained car seat installation advisor (appointed by the manufacturer) if you can.

However, if you’re in any doubt please contact the seat manufacturer before fitting your child’s chair.  

There is also a brilliant car seat installation clinic run by the lovely people at Good Egg Safety, who will check your car seat is fitted correctly for free.

Working in partnership with car seat manufacturer Maxi-Cosi, the clinics will take place in car parks of supermarkets, retail parks and other public places around the country and will even give you the opportunity to speak to a car seat expert while you’re there.  Check the Good Egg Safety website for locations and available dates here

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