With Christmas fast approaching, millions of Scots will be hunting for online bargains.
In rural areas in particular online shopping can be a godsend – especially for goods not available on our own doorstep.
Yet, for far too many Scots, online shopping comes with a huge drawback. Many are being ripped off by retailers charging astronomical parcel delivery surcharges.
Customers are scunnered by retailers who deliver free or at low cost elsewhere in the UK but impose hefty surcharges to much of Scotland.
Many cases defy belief. A £50 surcharge for dispatching a £5.99 pair of hand towels to Speyside. A £60 surcharge for a small £8.99 item to Fochabers. One constituent told me he could have spare car parts delivered for free from Germany but a UK retailer wanted a £45 surcharge.
Why is this happening? One key reason is that many Scottish postcodes aren’t deemed ‘mainland UK’.
The Scottish Highlands for instance are excluded by many retailers from mainland UK rates. Bizarrely, a lady told me a £70 surcharge was slapped on her purchase because her Stonehaven home is in the Highlands. That was news to her.
So the banners blazoned across websites boasting free UK delivery are worthless with customers getting a shock at the end of the ordering process.
Citizens Advice Scotland estimates one million Scots are affected.
Not all retailers impose absurd surcharges and many provide free delivery. But many surcharges are unjustifiable costing customers millions of pounds a year.
There’s no consistent approach by retailers. I’ve found different companies charge different delivery rates for different postcodes. Some offer free delivery in some or all postcodes or minimal surcharges. Others apply huge surcharges. There is no rhyme nor reason to how they are calculated.
The SNP has long campaigned against these rip off surcharges. SNP MP Drew Hendry took the fight to the House of Commons in 2016 only for his proposals to be blocked by the votes of Tory MPs.
Despite being a reserved issue, in 2014, the SNP Government and stakeholders drew up a statement of principles for retailers to follow. Some retailers stick by them. Others ignore them.
It’s clear the voluntary approach isn’t working. There’s a cast iron case for the UK government to regulate. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government should use its new consumer advocacy and advice powers.
Customers should shop around, and name and shame the worst offenders. Some big retailers like Halfords and Lloyds Pharmacy have reviewed their charges after I contacted them on behalf of constituents. So I know it can be done.
I’m campaigning to end rip-off delivery surcharges and I’ve been overwhelmed by how my Moray campaign has gone national and is gathering momentum for action. We need common standards and rules all retailers and courier companies must abide by.
I’ve launched a dedicated website fairdeliverycharges.scot and I’d urge everyone to support the campaign.