Madeleine Kennedy is a Policy Officer at Citizens Advice Scotland
This column was first published in the Herald on 27 December 2021.
So, did you get what you wanted on Saturday? And did the gifts you sent to others all arrive on time? For lots of people, they didn’t. And not because Santa was stuck in the chimney or Rudolph was social distancing. Customers are frequently dissatisfied by parcel delivery companies failing to do their one job successfully.
But what options do we consumers have when delivery companies don’t keep their promises? As online shopping becomes an increasingly essential part of our lives, CAS is asking whether the parcels market is currently fit for purpose.
As shoppers, we tend to focus more on the quality of the products we buy than on the way they are delivered. But the companies delivering our shopping should also deliver a high quality of service. At CAS we advocate for the consumer’s perspective to be heard by operators in the postal market. This includes dealing with complaints - when our last-minute panic-driven Christmas purchases are not delivered on time, we should be able to resolve these issues simply and efficiently with the delivery company.
Research conducted for CAS by YouGov over the last year shows that more than a third of individual customers and small businesses experienced a problem with deliveries, including lost parcels, delayed deliveries, and damage to goods. This is a worryingly high level of customer dissatisfaction and it has real impacts on people’s lives. But our research also shows that only one in three individuals who had an issue with their parcel delivery pursued a formal complaint with the delivery company. This is a low level of complaints considering we all have stories of a parcel being dropped in the neighbour’s hedge or a delivery driver ringing the bell and leaving before we had a chance to get to the door.
Our survey respondents simply don’t have faith in parcel operators to appropriately deal with complaints. Some felt that their issues wouldn’t be taken seriously. Others had previously made complaints which hadn’t been resolved. Of those who did take matters further, only 21% were satisfied with the response they received.
Many people just didn’t know how to complain or who to complain to. Parcel operators’ websites can be difficult to navigate. Often there isn’t an obvious place to make a complaint or an option to call the company directly. I know I find it frustrating when it’s near impossible to reach a real human being on the phone to explain what’s going on, prolonging the customer service nightmare which then can only be truly resolved by slamming shut the computer, making a cup of tea, and moaning to a friend about it. These barriers need to be addressed to ensure that parcel deliveries work better for everyone.
Ofcom is proposing new guidance on how parcel companies should handle complaints. We want to see an effective complaints process where consumers can raise and resolve issues in a simple way with both digital and non-digital channels to voice their issues. Next year let’s aim to have a Christmas season where people don’t have to experience stressful and prolonged complaints processes which fail to deliver the goods.