Online retailers urged to commit to fair charges for rural parcel deliveries

Out-Law News | 21 Aug 2014 | 4:52 pm | 1 min. read

Online retailers and suppliers have been urged to adopt new guidelines intended to ensure that businesses and customers based in rural areas are not forced to pay "disproportionate and unfairly high" parcel delivery costs.

The Statement of Principles for Parcel Deliveries was developed by the Scottish government and consumer rights groups and adopted by industry, government, trading standards and consumer groups last year. A UK-wide version of the guidelines, based on the Scottish document, was launched by business minister Jo Swinson at an event in Glasgow last month.

Fergus Ewing, the Scottish government's enterprise minister, said that with many shoppers "already starting to think about ordering online and getting in early with Christmas shopping", now was a good time for suppliers to commit to the principles of fairness and transparency set out in the document.

"Unfortunately we're still finding that many customers in Scotland's Highland and Islands are faced with disproportionate costs when it comes to the delivery of their online purchases," he said. "[And] it's not just customers who are affected by postcode penalties - businesses in rural areas are also hit hard by delivery surcharges."

"Retailers should take on board our statement of principles and in turn customers, particularly in the Highlands and Islands, will receive a better service. I welcome the recent announcement that the statement has now been adopted across the UK. By abiding by the guidelines, online retailers can show respect for customers in all parts of the UK," he said.

The principles are intended to apply to couriers, online retailers and parcel delivery firms. Firms that adopt them are expected to ensure that those making purchases online are charged a fair delivery price, given delivery cost information upfront and provided with clear directions to terms and conditions. Any possible necessary geographic surcharges or delivery restrictions should be stated clearly, and include the reason for the variation. Online retailers are also expected to ensure that their pricing policies do not discriminate against consumers depending on where they are based.

Research published by Citizens Advice Scotland earlier this year found that 90% of 250 respondent businesses had been charged extra for having items delivered because of their location, with 76% of those saying that this had had a substantial impact on their business. Around 80% regularly found that items had been misleadingly advertised as 'free delivery', even though surcharges were imposed as a result of their location.

Although industry body the British Retail Consortium (BRC) has given its support to the new principles, it has said that it is "not always possible to provide consumers everywhere with every product" or the same delivery charge for certain heavy goods. Consumer protection legislation governing distance selling requires retailers to provide withdrawal rights up to a minimum of 14 days after the consumer takes possession of the goods, and to guarantee goods for as long as six years in some cases.