Thousands of people in rural Scotland are being charged ‘rip-off’ prices for delivery when they buy goods online, according to new research from Citizens Advice Scotland.
The research shows that rural Scots are often refused delivery altogether because their location is classed as ‘remote’. If they are able to get delivery at all, the charges can be so high that many report abandoning purchases at the online checkout.
Nearly 900 people responded to the survey run by the CAB service across Scotland. The interim report, published today (Monday), shows that 84% of respondents had been refused delivery altogether because of their location, and 85% have warned friends and family against using certain companies because of their excessive charges.
Among the complaints in the survey are claims that many companies routinely:
- state that they offer ‘FREE DELIVERY’ but then charge substantial fees for people in rural areas;
- refuse to deliver at all to certain areas;
- use expensive couriers for all their deliveries – even though Royal Mail delivers to all UK postcodes for the same low price; and
- apply a single delivery fee to all addresses in a postcode area – despite the fact that some postcodes contain wide variations in the actual cost of delivery (e.g. The KW postcode includes much of Caithness as well as Orkney).
Publishing the report, the campaign’s co-ordinator Angela Murphy says,
“We’ve been taken aback by the scale of the response, and the level of anger expressed by Scottish consumers. It’s without doubt the biggest response we’ve ever had to a survey of this kind.
“The comments reveal huge levels of anger, and some of the examples reported are really shocking. With families watching every penny at the moment these excessive costs are a major burden for many people.
“But it’s not just about the money. This survey reveals that rural people feel exploited, and frankly discriminated against. They are very angry and want something done about it. And so do we.
“We will be reporting this evidence to the Office of Fair Trading, and to Trading Standards, as well as to both the UK and Scottish governments. We are also writing to the companies named by respondents, to ask them to change their policies in the light of this evidence. We will be naming the companies and publishing more detail of that in the New Year.
“The CAB service is here to protect consumers whenever we see unfairness. This is a great example of that, and we can assure rural Scots that this campaign is only just the beginning.”
Citizens Advice Scotland are also re-opening the survey, to enable more people to report their evidence of this issue. Angela Murphy says,
“Since we closed the survey a few weeks ago we’ve had lots of people contacting us to say they’d missed the deadline but really wanted to tell us their story. This is quite unprecedented for a survey like this, but again it shows the strength of feeling. So we’ve decided to re-open the survey today for another few weeks, to enable more people to come forward and contribute their evidence.
“Anyone who wants to report their experience or express their opinion can do so at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FreeDelivery until the survey finally closes at midnight on 19 January, 2012. All the evidence will go into our next report, which we will publish in the New Year.
“What we are aiming to do here is to persuade these companies to change their policies. We hope that many of them will be open to persuasion. After all, our survey shows that they are currently losing potential trade, which is cutting into their profit margins. Changing their pricing policies would make sense for them too. It would not only give rural people a fair deal but would increase their own trade and profits as well.
“The more evidence we get, the better, so we urge everyone to take a few minutes to fill in the survey and let us know their views. This is people power in action.”
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
The interim report – Free Delivery* - can be downloaded below as can the survey data.
Case studies are available to interview, film and photograph.
(NB these are examples quoted in the report, but we can provide others on request)
“A company in Somerset wanted an extra £80 instead of the £20 for delivery. But I have been refused delivery full stop on many occasions from other companies because of being in the Highlands and Islands. Others would charge an extra £12 or more.”
“eBay vendors can offer ‘Free’ shipping, but when you scroll down they (pretty much always) have a clause saying that to the Highlands & Islands is extra. I tried to buy a sink off a supplier through eBay and he quoted me a delivery charge of £110. I wanted to reply by asking if he was buying it a seat on the plane.”
“We always shop around, taking particular account of delivery charges. We are only three quarters of a mile from the main Glasgow to Campbeltown trunk road but we are often treated as if we inhabited some remote island. Many companies charge large postage fees anyway, even for small items that would fit in ordinary envelopes. If companies used Royal Mail where practicable instead of expensive carriers there would be no extra cost for “remote” addresses
“I am currently particularly annoyed by a company [...] who have ‘Free Delivery’ emblazoned across every single product on their website. Not to me it wasn’t! £14.99. I don’t mind paying extra if companies have to pay extra to reach us but the use of couriers is becoming more common, and they seem to think that we are somewhere off Australia.”
“The website let me place an order for 3 bedside cabinets, added delivery of around £5, gave me the usual email to say we could track delivery. When next day I did the tracking, order was on hold (I hadn’t been advised at all) When I rang to see why, they said that there was to be an extra charge of £55 for delivery. I cancelled the order & was promised that they would NOT take monies, but next day they had used my card details and taken payment, despite their earlier reassurances. [...] there was some very small print somewhere low profile embedded in their terms, that islands should call them re delivery charges - no one would ever see it.”
Notes on the survey
Who are the survey Responders?
A total of 863 consumers responded to the Citizens Advice Scotland survey, in the space of just 3 weeks in November 2011. Of the 757 who supplied their postcode, 38% were from the Highland Council area*, 30% were from Orkney, 15% were from the Western Isles and 8% were from Argyll and Bute. Other areas included Moray, Aberdeenshire, Fife and even some from the central belt. *The attachment includes tables showing the breakdowns of respondents for areas within the Highland Council region.
Who are the Retailers identified in the survey?
Over two thirds of respondents to Citizens Advice Scotland’s survey shared their experiences of particular companies and their charging policies. More than 300 different retailers were named by rural consumers as either charging high delivery prices or refusing to deliver to them at all. Many of these companies were household names, but the majority were smaller retailers who may not be aware of the impact of their policies, or of their obligations under trading standards laws (or indeed of the fact that they are losing out in trading opportunities by sticking to these policies).
NB We are not naming these companies in this interim report but will conduct further research into their pricing policies for rural Scotland over the next few weeks - including asking them whether they will agree to change their policies – with a view to identifying them and reporting in more detail in the New Year.