Internet traders fail to make the grade on delivery charges

A report to The Highland Council’s Transport Environmental and Community Services Committee on Thursday 16 March has identified that the Internet trading activities of almost 200 businesses across the UK are under investigation by Council’s Trading Standards as a result of a survey undertaken between November 2011 and January 2012.

Over 300 responses were received during the survey identifying problems with how delivery charges were calculated and how these charges were communicated to online customers.

The range of product sectors involved is very wide and includes books; car parts and accessories; clothing and footwear; craft; DIY and supplies; electronics; financial; food and drink; gardening; health and beauty, homewares; pet supplies and animals; sports goods; and toys and nursery goods.

Although the level of charges made by online traders is not in itself controlled by law, businesses are legally required to make any charges clear to customers and to provide this information in a way and at a time in the buying process that does not lead customers into continuing with a transaction process that they would not otherwise have done so.

Businesses are also prohibited from making misleading statements about the charges that may apply, the most common example from the survey being ”Free UK Mainland Delivery”, when either hidden in the small print or sometimes only at the final stage in the purchase process, a supplemental charge is applied based on a purchaser’s postcode that was clearly on the UK mainland.

14 businesses out of the 200 under investigation accounted for a third of all the complaints received and Trading Standards are currently focusing their resources on them. 

Gordon Robb, The Highland Council Trading Standards Manager, said: “There have been some early successes achieved by the excellent work my staff we have done so far, two examples involved a national retailer of household goods and a small specialist motor vehicle spares supplier, both having already changed their advertising and distance selling practices to comply. Good progress is also being made from our discussions with a number of other businesses.

“We operate under legal restrictions that prevent reporting the details of these cases, but hope to be able to work with the businesses involved to bring more into the public domain and hopefully help in increasing business and public awareness of what the law requires.”

The survey closed on 31 January but complaints about this and any other trading practice can still be made to The Highland Council’s  Trading Standards at 38 Harbour Road, Inverness or telephone Consumer Direct on 08454 04 05 06. More information about your consumer rights can be found by going to the Consumer Direct website at: www.direct.gov.uk.

9 Mar 2012
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