Over 1 million Scots are being ‘routinely ripped off’ by unfair delivery charges because of where they live, according to new evidence published today by Citizens Advice Scotland.
CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says:
“The CAB service is all about fighting unfairness, standing up for consumer rights and empowering people. This campaign does all of these things. Many Scots are being routinely ripped off by unfair and unjustifiable delivery charges just because of where they live. That is clearly and deeply unfair, and it cannot be allowed to continue un-challenged.
“A year ago today we published our first report on this issue, and asked consumers to report their experiences to us. We were frankly overwhelmed by the response. Over 2,000 Scots responded in just a few weeks, telling us extraordinary stories of over-charging, late delivery, poor customer service and in some cases a refusal to deliver to their area at all. We promised then that that was only the beginning of our campaign, and so we have spent the year researching more evidence and working with partners to fight for a fair deal.
“We passed all of these complaints to Trading Standards, who have done a brilliant job of pursuing every one of them. Meanwhile, we at CAS have been researching the hundreds of companies identified, and examining their delivery policies – many of which are based on an ignorance of Scottish geography. For example, some companies believe that Inverness is off-shore, and that Aberdeen is in the Highlands.
“We present this information today to show that this unfairness is affecting more people than is commonly realised. This campaign has had some success in persuading some companies to change their ways – most notably Ebay, which has adjusted its policies as a result of being presented with this evidence. But we call today on all online companies to examine their delivery policies and make sure they are not applying this unfair postcode penalty on Scotland.
“We also urge any consumer who has an example of this unfair treatment to report it to the Trading Standards office at their local Council. This campaign is ‘people power’ in action, and we need everyone affected to come forward and join us in fighting for a fair deal.”
CAS spokespeople are available for interview on this story, either on Wednesday or recorded in advance. We also have a number of case studies available for interview. Contact us on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
Summary of the story so far
- On 19 December 2011, exactly one year ago today, we published our first report on this issue. That report was based on an initial survey of 900 Scots. It received huge publicity and showed that this was an issue of great concern that was long overdue for action.
- As we published that report, we opened a national survey to enable more people to report their experiences. In just 3 weeks, a further 2,100 irate Scots reported cases to us. We made clear at that point that for us this campaign was only just beginning.
- We passed all of those 3,000 complaints on to Trading Standards officers, who had also been collecting their own evidence. They have done a terrific job following up these complaints individually. We also talked to ministers (both Scottish and UK) and to the Office of Fair Trading and Consumer Focus Scotland, to form a broad-based long-term campaign.
- Meanwhile we at CAS continued our research – including examination of 534 companies which were named by people in our survey. We are publishing the results of that research today – exactly one year on from the day we first raised the issue.
- So our evidence is based on unprecedented levels of research, on real case evidence submitted by over 3,000 Scots, and on analysis of the delivery policies of over 500 online traders.
The key points from today's report
- At least 1 million Scots face surcharges, late delivery or are refused delivery altogether when they try to buy goods online.
- Consumers in Scotland’s island communities face a postcode penalty of nearly £19 extra (£18.60) to deliver goods they buy online – that’s a 500% mark up on the standard delivery price.
- Consumers in the Highlands are charged an extra £15 per delivery on average
- Of the 534 retailers whose policies we investigated, 335 of them (63%) charged extra for delivery to certain parts of the UK. 72% of those surcharges applied to consumers in Scotland, indicating that Scottish consumers are disproportionately affected by delivery surcharges.
- 55% of retailers who restricted the areas of the UK to which they would deliver refused to deliver goods to any Scottish islands, disadvantaging the estimated 100,000 people who live in island communities.
- Ofcom’s latest statistics show that UK shoppers spent an average of £1000 on online shopping on 2011
- 85% of the consumers who responded to our survey said they would warn family and friends against using a retailer with unfair delivery practices
- 34% of retailers we investigated said that delivery would take longer for consumers in some parts of the UK. 39% of these retailers took an extra three or more days to deliver to consumers in certain parts of Scotland, with some customers waiting as long as 35 extra days for delivery compared the rest of the UK.
- A quarter of retailers who told their consumers that delivery could take longer to them did not specify how long it would take. In addition, 44% of retailers who took longer to deliver did not specify which parts of the country were affected
- 69% of retailers we investigated did not offer delivery by Royal Mail, despite the Royal Mail’s universal service obligation meaning that delivery by this method costs the same across the UK
- 63% of the retailers who charged extra for delivery to some locations did not offer delivery by Royal Mail as an alternative.
How much extra are people paying?
The additional costs incurred by customers varies depending on the products on sale, the weight of the items, how they are delivered and exactly where they are delivered to. However it is possible to calculate the difference between standard delivery prices and the average prices payable by consumers in different parts of the UK. From this data, we can work out the additional monetary cost as well as the percentage increase in cost for consumers in these areas. These “postcode penalties” are outlined in the table below.
|Area affected||Average additional price||Average percentage mark up|
|Highlands and Islands||£13.19||243%|
|all offshore areas (UK)||£16.03||331%|
|Highlands and Islands + Northern Ireland||£12.32||216%|
|mixed areas (inc. Scotland)||£12.06||260%|
|mixed areas (not inc. Scotland)||£15.42||303%|
The following are all the case studies listed in our report. Though these are all anonymous, we do have a number of case studies who have indicated that they are available for media interview.
As I live on a farm, in a rural location some courier companies refuse to deliver at all. Others accept the package delivery and then do not deliver - meaning I have to wait months sometimes for refunds while the package has never left the warehouse. They will not ring for directions and several drivers have told me the packages are put on a van with no intentions of delivery as it is a rural address.
A consumer near Falkirk
On more than one occasion after I had ordered and paid for an item online I have been sent an email saying that I live off shore. I do not – I live in Caithness on the Scottish Mainland. Due to me living on an “island” I was told I would need to pay an extra 50% or 70% or even sometimes 100% more postage. I have been told that it makes no difference if Caithness is on the Mainland of Scotland, it is still classed as the same as the Isle of Scilly. Or that my Postcode is KW therefore I must live on Orkney. Or that I live in the Highlands and Islands so they class all address as on an island.
A Caithness consumer
There was one occasion I purchased a CD from a company in London and from one in California at around the same time. The courier was the same company, UPS. I paid £5 carriage from the USA, £25 from London. The items took 5 days from USA, 2 weeks from London. So far as the California office was concerned we're all UK; the London office splits us into ‘the far north’, and hence inaccessible, and ‘the rest’. The thing that really annoys me is when you query why it is so expensive for a small item weighing a few ounces, and why don't they just send it in the post, to be told that their contract with the courier does not allow to use the Royal Mail.
A consumer in Shetland
I have on many occasions tried to order things through various companies and been told they do not deliver to the Scottish Islands. Some I have just cancelled and some I have had delivered into a courier in Inverness and paid to have them brought over to the Isle of Lewis myself.
A consumer on Lewis
I live on the Isle of Skye, which, by virtue of being attached to the mainland by a free bridge, should be classed as mainland delivery, as there are no ferry fees now. This is rarely the case! If you are lucky, you can negotiate, but in many cases it costs more to deliver here than, for example, Kyle of Lochalsh. There are a lot of companies who don't include the Highlands and Islands as a whole as being mainland UK - this is particularly frustrating. Especially when the same companies will deliver to English towns much further away from their depots than any part of Scotland.
A consumer on Skye
I have been refused delivery because of my postcode on several occasions. Also had surcharges levied because of my postcode - these have been anything from an additional £10 to up to £50. Needless to say, I did not use these companies. This can be the case even if the company website states that they use Royal Mail Delivery/Parcelforce.
A consumer in Shetland
Online businesses are quick to employ the excuse of everything North of Hadrian's Wall being served by goat tracks and smoke signals.
A consumer based in the south of Glasgow
Like everyone else in the Western Isles I have been ripped off on delivery charges to 'remote areas'. On one occasion I was refused delivery altogether when I tried to order goods by phone - but then when I went to their website the order was processed with no extra delivery charge at all! It does not seem to have occurred to some retailers that it is those of us living in remote areas who are most in need of mail order services.
A consumer on Lewis
This problem is so common that most people here don’t even look at a company’s goods now without first checking the delivery policy, even when it says ‘UK’ and especially when it says ‘Free Delivery’. I am delighted that CAB have taken this matter seriously. It’s so ironic that those of us in rural areas, who are most in need of online shopping, are penalised or treated like second class citizens.
A consumer in Orkney
Increasingly find I have to go very near to the end of transaction before the costs are made clear - I then often cancel the transaction - this is a big waste of my time and I feel companies should be much more open with their delivery costs. A recent example had the list of postcodes which incurred an additional charge, however this list was in the terms and conditions related to returns, and not clear before purchase.
A consumer in Aberdeenshire
The best delivery is first class Royal Mail, which always gets here within 2 days, often next day. Parcel companies’ next day delivery never works and is often 7-10 days - because they mark the item delivered when it arrives at the Glasgow depot and then don't deliver it for several days.
A consumer from near Fort William
Couriers generally try to deliver once, then go back to their depot if you are not at home. They then ask you to phone an automated service to rebook your delivery slot. Sounds very user friendly - but the delivery slot will be somewhere between 8am and 6pm. No good if you are working. Or you could just come to the depot (usually Aberdeen, a two hour round trip if traffic is bad) and collect.... Why would I buy online if I wanted to drive to Aberdeen for my shopping? The Royal Mail (much maligned) are, in contrast, fantastic. They leave a card if I am out, stating that the item is either at the local post office or at the delivery office in Fraserburgh. Very handy, and easy to collect. The Royal Mail service is a lifeline to rural communities.
A consumer from Fraserburgh
A high percentage of ebay traders now specify 'not available for delivery to highlands' or 'email for extra charge for delivery to postcodes listed below' (PA is in these lists). Some quote an actual figure (usually twice the normal delivery charge). This practice has become has become far more common in the last 4 or 5 years. Couriers are being used more commonly, instead of Royal Mail, even for smaller items. Amazon are excellent and do not surcharge even when using couriers.
A consumer in Argyll
Many companies charge a flat rate "Highlands and Islands" weighting, regardless of what you want to order. Sometimes it is as much as £20 on top of the normal postage fee, even for small items. I never buy from those places - I'd rather do without the item! Other places are excellent. I have a list of them & just go back to the same places again and again. It means I have a very narrow choice but I'd rather that than give my money to the rip off merchants. Marks and Spencer, John Lewis, Amazon themselves (I don't use other retailers advertising via Amazon) are top of my "don't rip off" list.
A consumer in Argyll
Recently whilst looking online for a new toilet brush I found one I liked for £18 but the Postage was £25 to the Highlands and Islands (£5 elsewhere in the UK). We have learned to be very loyal to the companies that treat us well and just avoid those that don't. LOVE JOHN LEWIS!
A consumer in the Western Isles
I have been refused delivery because the company maintained that Oban was an island and no amount of arguing convinced them that it is in fact on the mainland of Scotland. The amount of companies that will not deliver to Scottish Highlands and Scottish Islands is ridiculous - for goodness sake we are only 2 hours from Glasgow/Perth/Stirling not Outer Mongolia.
A consumer in Oban
Which companies are the worst offenders?
The survey we launched a year ago invited people to name the individual companies with which they’d had the most positive and negative experiences.
The worst companies
[figures in brackets shows how many of the survey respondents named this company in a negative way]:
1. Ebay (299) * but see notes below
2. Amazon Marketplace (90)
3. Tesco (77)
4. Ebuyer.com (74)
5. Amazon (62)
6. Argos (61)
7. Screwfix (54)
8. The Book people (34)
= Toys R Us (34)
9. Halfords (26)
The ‘best’ companies
[figures in brackets show how many of the survey respondents named the company in a positive way]
1 Amazon (72)
2. John Lewis (18)
3. Marks & Spencer (14)
4. Play.com (13)
5. Screwfix (7)
6. Argos (6)
= Debenhams (6)
= Next (6)
7. Boots (4)
= Lakeland plastics (4)
Notes on these lists:
- How can companies like Amazon, Argos and Screwfix appear on both the Good and Bad lists? The answer is that individual consumers can have different experiences of the same organisation. However, it is worth noting that the numbers being critical far exceed those being complimentary. e.g. the numbers criticising Argos in our survey were 61, while those praising them were 6. And the numbers criticising Screwfix were 54 while those praising them were 7.
- It is also worth noting that Amazon and Amazon Marketplace are separate parts of the same business. Amazon is the trading arm of the company itself, which trades directly with customers. Amazon Marketplace is the part of the organisation which acts as a forum for other traders. As we say in our report, it was not always clear that survey respondents understood the distinction, but in terms of the raw figures Amazon Marketplace tended to come off much worse, in terms of attracting complaints.
- Ebay is an interesting case. They were by far the ‘worst’ company, in terms of the number of complaints. Since the survey was taken however (1 year ago), they have been contacted by Trading Standards, who have made them aware of our evidence, and they have responded by altering their policy. While there is still a great deal of progress to be made, this is a major success for the campaign and we now urge other companies to do the same and adjust their pricing policies too.