Consumers in Shetland have to pay a “shocking” extra £18.60 when buying online because of their postcode, according to new research published by the Scottish Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
CAB has collected thousands of stories, including many from islanders, detailing tales of overcharging, late deliveries and poor customer service from many online companies. The traders most often mentioned include household names such as Tesco, Argos, Toys-R-Us and eBay, as well as many smaller firms.
Many politicians are backing the finding’s of CAB’s Postcode Penalty report and are calling for companies to change their ways and offer a fair deal to all Scottish consumers.
The average mark-up fee of £18.60 equates to 508 per cent more than the standard delivery price. In addition, around 13 per cent of retailers refuse to deliver to a ZE postcode, putting Shetland third in a top 10 table of “usual suspects”.
CAB said many of the extra charges, delays and refusals experienced by customers were “down to ignorance of geography, and a refusal to use the cheapest delivery option available”.
Local bureau manager Sylvia Jamieson said: “Everyone in Shetland has had personal experience of being overcharged by online companies. Sadly, it is the norm. But that doesn’t mean we should put up with it.”
She said there had been an “extraordinary” level of support for the campaign from members of the public.
“The reason for that is simple,” she said. “These charges are just shockingly unfair, and unjustifiable. Delivery charges should be based on the actual cost of delivering the item – with a reasonable profit margin for the seller. 508 per cent is not a reasonable profit margin by any fair calculation. We need to put a stop to this, and demand a fair deal.”
One islander said they had been refused delivery on “several occasions” and had refused to use a number of companies which had tried to levy surcharges of anything from £10 to £50.
Another Shetland consumer bought CDs separately from companies in London and California, both of which used UPS as its courier. The delivery cost was £5 from the USA and £25 from London. The CD from California took five days to arrive, whereas the CD from London took a fortnight.
They said: “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 they don’t just send it in the post, to be told that their contract with the courier does not allow [them] to use the Royal Mail.”
The Postcode Penalty report proposes several measures to tackle the problem, including:
• Where one courier does not deliver to certain areas, retailers should shop around for an alternative courier which does;
• Wherever possible, retailers should offer delivery by Royal Mail;
• Delivery prices “should not be based on arbitrary post codes” and should be explained simply and displayed clearly on retail websites;
• Retailers should not advertise “free next day delivery” on sites if that offer is not available to certain UK consumers;
• The universal service obligation ensuring that delivery of packages of up to 20kg costs the same across the UK must be protected.
Ms Jamieson said the research demonstrated that it does not cost companies a huge amount extra to deliver items and “nor does it need to take a long time”. CAB is calling on companies to “adopt a bit of fairness and common sense”.
She said: “Some of them have already done that, as a result of this campaign. For example, eBay have changed their delivery policies when confronted with this evidence. But we need to keep up the pressure now and make sure all online companies give us a fair deal.
“Such excessive charges are bad at any time. But particularly at the moment, with so many people still suffering the effects of the recession.
“Here at CAB we see people every day who are struggling to pay their bills and put food on the table. For them, finding an extra £18.60 when buying something is a really big deal.
“And it’s not just domestic consumers and families. Many businesses too are hit hard by this – particularly those who need to buy in materials or goods regularly. Some are having to pay these excess fees several times a day.”
• Anyone who believes they have been fleeced by an online delivery firm is being asked to keep all the details and send the information to SIC trading standards on (01595) 744887 or email email@example.com