The escalating warnings about hoverboards are resonating with corporations, but they could actually increase consumer demand for the item this holiday seasons.
All three of the U.S. major airlines (and many smaller ones) recently banned the self-balancing scooters, citing concerns about fire safety. And some retailers, such as Overstock, are stepping back from the product as well. Even the Consumer Electronics Show banned them.
Despite the bans, though, the items remain hot sellers – and they could become more popular in the weeks to come.
While the announcements by airlines, retailers and safety experts may hope to dissuade people from buying and transporting the devices, fans of hoverboards have shown themselves to be somewhat obsessed with the technology.
Earlier this year, the U.K.’s Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced hoverboards were illegal to operate on main roads and sidewalks (something New York Cty recently echoed, saying it would fine users $500). That ban actually increased interest, though, with sales more than doubling, according to online retailer ApplianceDirect.co.uk.
Of course, there’s a big difference between flouting traffic laws and literally playing with fire. There have been several reports of spontaneous hoverboard combustions in the past several weeks, many of which have been documented on social media. In late November, a YouTube clip showing a hoverboard reportedly exploding went viral.
And footage of hoverboard catching fire at a Washington shopping mall found its way to Twitter.
Swagway, one of the top hoverboard manufacturers, acknowledged the safety concerns, but added the problem stems from companies that cut corners in choosing their system batteries.
“We can’t speak for other brands but for Swagway, as safety is a top priority, we take the extra measure to use parts like UL listed adapters and top quality Samsung or LG lithium-ion batteries,” the company said on its Website. “Swagway not only adheres to government regulations, but we exceed them for added assurance. … We can’t stress enough how the caliber of the components used can make an impact in the overall safety of these boards. For this reason, we don’t ever compromise when it comes to using the highest quality parts.”
Many of Swagway’s options are sold out “for an indeterminate amount of time,” according to its Website. And the retailer is warning people to expect delays as it is backordered on other models.
“We are currently catching up on orders placed over the Black Friday/Cyber Monday weekend,” the company tells potential buyers. “We do still have Swagways to sell and intend to ship them as fast as we possibly can, which is currently slightly delayed because of our back-log. Feel free to order your Swagway, but keep in mind it may be a few extra days before your order is shipped.”
Concerns about the construction quality of hoverboards as a category (rather than those of a particular manufacturer) led Delta Air Lines(DAL), United Airlines (UAL) and American Airlines (AAL) to prohibit people from bringing hoverboards onboard – including in their checked luggage – earlier this week
“Poorly labeled, powerful lithium-ion batteries powering hoverboards are the issue,” said Delta in a statement. “Delta reviewed hoverboard product specifications and found that manufacturers do not consistently provide detail about the size or power of their lithium-ion batteries.”
Specifically, some hoverboards contain lithium-ion batteries that top 160 watt hours, which is above government-mandated limits. Officials fear defective devices could spontaneously overheat, which could cause a fire hazard. (Should the batteries come into contact with metal objects at both ends, such as coins or keys, it can create an electical current, which creates the risk – and the fire could spread quickly if several of the batteries are packed together.)
British Airways, Virgin America, Hawaiian Airlines (HA), Frontier, Alaska Airlines and Jet Blue (JBLU) have also stopped allowing hoverboards on their planes. The Wall Street Journal reports the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) is working to develop an industry standard for the product.
The bans don’t stop at airlines, either. Earlier this week, retailer Overstock (OSTK) announced that it would no longer sell the popular items due to safety concerns – and would be offering refunds as well. Customers can return their hoverboards within two weeks of being notified or product delivery. (Brick and mortar retailers such as Target (TGT) and WalMart (WMT) announced before the holiday shopping season that they would not carry the item.)
“Customer safety is always our top priority,” said Mitch Edwards, Overstock.com’s general counsel and senior vice president. “With the continued emergence of news reports highlighting safety concerns with hover board self-balancing electric scooters, we have made the decision to remove all similar products from our website as a precautionary measure.”
Perhaps anticipating that the demand for hoverboards would not diminish despite the bans and warnings, the National Association of State Fire Marshals advised consumers who are still thinking about buying one to be very selective about the brand they choose.
“When determining whether a scooter meets safety standards, buyers should look for indications of acceptance by recognized testing organizations, the information of which may appear on the item’s packaging,” the group said. “Consumers should also consider purchasing the items from reputable online and local stores that offer warranties.”