By: Ellen Metrick, Human Factors Specialist, UL LLC
Recent events in the toy industry have dramatically changed toy distribution forever. First, it was the closure of Toys”R”Us®. Its 2019 shuttering left a substantial gap in the brick-and-mortar retail space. Now, Amazon might soon require smaller vendors to sell directly to consumers via Amazon Marketplace instead of through Amazon directly. These changes have left toy vendors in a full-blown flux, with many choosing to sell products directly to consumers. If e-commerce is a new avenue for your company, here are a few tips from our regulatory experts to ensure you cross your t’s and dot your i’s when selling directly to consumers.
Virtually every market in the world has a regulatory body or mandatory law that governs the safety of toys. For example, here are the primary safety standards for these major regions:
- USA – ASTM F963 Standard Consumer Safety Specification for Toy Safety
- Canada – SOR/2011-17 Toys Regulations
- Europe – EN 71 Safety of Toys
- International Organization for Standardization – ISO 8124 Safety of Toys (wholly or partially adopted in various countries and regions)
Since many countries have their own unique requirements, it is important to note the following:
- You must comply with the regulations of the market of distribution. For instance, if you are distributing only to the United States, you would need to comply with ASTM F963; whereas, if you are distributing only to Canada, you would need to comply with SOR/2011-17. If you are distributing to both the United States and Canada, you would need to comply with both standards. Product inventories for one market may not be compliant in other markets.
- You must comply with applicable state regulations. Many U.S. states also have adopted their own unique requirements. In order to distribute to those states, you would have to comply with their unique requirements. For instance, in order to ship your product to a California consumer who makes a purchase on your website, that product must comply with the California Proposition 65 regulation and any other California requirements applicable to your product.
- Many markets accept the ASTM F963, EN 71, and ISO 8124 standards. Other markets recognize these standards but adopt their own adaptations of one or more of these standards, while still other markets may adopt wholly unique standards. Do your homework to know which standards are recognized and required by your target market(s).
- In some markets, you may be considered the manufacturer, importer, and/or distributor for your own brand of products. Because each role has unique responsibilities, it is important that you understand the obligations associated with each one.
- You may be required to have local representation. Not every market requires a local contact, however some, such as the European Union, do. Check to make sure you know what is required for your target market(s).
- Familiarize yourself with the regulations that govern product distribution and product returns. Consult each target market’s consumer protection act, or its equivalent, for requirements and useful guidance.
- You need to provide specific information at point of sale (e.g., on your website). This includes information that may impact the customer’s decision to purchase the product, such as size, weight, age limitations/recommendations, battery types, safety warnings, etc. The information should be available in the official language(s) of the market. In some cases, but not all, the use of pictograms may replace multiple languages.
- Many markets have unique labeling and language requirements. For instance, children’s products distributed in the U.S. must bear tracking labels that enable the manufacturer and ultimate purchaser to determine the source of the products (i.e., manufacturer or private labeler, location and date of production of the product, batch or run numbers, etc.). Some required labels may need to be available at the point of sale and/or on the product itself. Labels may need to be translated into the official language(s) of the target market, such as in the Province of Quebec, where labels must be in French and the use of French given equal prominence with other languages on any packaging or containers.
- Conformity markings are required in some markets. The CE mark for toys distributed in Europe is an example of a mandatory certification mark. When placed on a toy, the CE mark serves as an indication that the toy conforms with the health and safety protection standards of that region. Other conformity markings may be voluntary and indicate compliance with a voluntary standard above and beyond mandatory requirements.
The decision to sell directly to consumers, particularly in multiple markets, may result in added costs related to the following:
- Packaging. Meeting compliance requirements in multiple markets may require modifications to the packaging and/or the labeling on the packaging. In some cases, two or more different sets of packaging may be needed to satisfy the requirements of all markets to where the product will be distributed.
- Testing. Satisfying the product requirements dictated by multiple markets may result in additional testing.
- Tariffs. Many products today are subject to import tariffs at the border. Be sure to check the tariff schedule for the markets you are seeking to export to and ensure you work with appropriate customs authorities to ensure payment on your goods so as to expedite the shipping process.
Ellen is a Human Factors Specialist with UL LLC, providing safety risk assessments on toys through the lens of child development.