Highlands pay a high price for courier deliveries : Onlineshopping boomcostly for consumers as firms areaccused of excessive charges for transport to... [Scotsman, The (Scotland)]
(Scotsman, The (Scotland) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Highlands pay a high price for courier deliveries : Onlineshopping boomcostly for consumers as firms areaccused of excessive charges for transport to the islands, reports Claire Smith
SCOTLAND is in love with online shopping. According to the latest figures from the Scottish Retail Consortium, online shopping rose by 17 per cent last year while the volume of goods delivered rose by 400 per cent.But there is a problem. Although shopping online is convenient, especially for people in rural areas, getting things delivered is not always so easy - particularly if you live on one of Scotland's islands.Angela Murphy, social policy co-ordinator for Portree Citizens Advice Bureau on Skye, which has campaigned on the issue said: "The reason it became such a pain for us was that people living here were having to pay GBP40 more than people on the mainland - even though the only thing separating us is a two-mile bridge."We really, really depend on online shops. We don't have any clothes shops here and people started to get really fed up of the whole thing."Ms Murphy said the highest courier charge she had heard of for a Skye delivery was GBP90. And she said many people on the island now asked friends on the mainland to accept deliveries - rather than pay the additional charges.Gordon Robb, trading standards manager for Highland Council, said his department received 300 complaints about delivery charges in the course of a three- month investigation."The amount of complaints we received when we asked people for their experiences with deliveries was staggering. We are still receiving complaints at a rate of two or three a week. People feel they are not being treated fairly."While existing legislation allows trading standards officers to intervene if charges are unfairly advertised, he said there is nothing council officers can do to combat the frequent complaint that the amount of money being charged is excessive.He says: "Legislation can only take it so far. If you are dealing with the issue of unfairness we need to work with the industry to cover that."This week retailers, trading standards officers and consumer groups met in Edinburgh to try to find a solution to Scotland's parcel problem.Tricia McAuley, senior director of Consumer Focus Scotland, said: "There is a wide range of problems. People understand it costs more to deliver to greater distances but the real trouble is how the costs have been arrived at."The problem is UK retailers who don't understand the geography of Scotland. A good example is the IV postcode, which covers a vast area. It means that if you live on the outskirts of Inverness you are charged the same as if you live in Wick."She said customers needed more transparency about charges, with information available upfront. Consumers in more remote areas also need couriers to give more information about delivery times and to be better at making arrangements for redelivery if a person happens to be out.Research by Consumer Focus Scotland suggested almost one in three people have difficulties getting their parcel because of inconvenient opening hours at local delivery offices. Collection points were also said to be too far away for more than one in ten people.The watchdog said households in rural areas were worst affected, with many facing high surcharges for delivery or some companies refusing to deliver. And the average additional charge to people living on Scotland's islands was GBP19.Although UK delivery charges are often advertised as being free consumer groups feel many of the additional charges are unfair.Sarah Beattie Smith, policy and parliamentary officer for Citizens Advice Scotland, said retailers were missing out on a huge potential market by not improving delivery services."There is a ready market out there of people in the Highlands and Islands who would love to be able to buy more online. There are so many savings to be made online and people are missing out because retailers and couriers will not deliver to them at an affordable price."Among the solutions being discussed are a new code of conduct for retailers which would set out a transparent system of charging to more remote areas. Another option would be a system of secure collection points which could make it easier for customers in the Highlands and Islands and other rural areas to pick up parcels at their convenience.It has also been suggested that customers should be given the choice of receiving smaller parcels via the Royal Mail - which often has much lower delivery charges than those charged by couriers.Neil Saunders, director of Conlumino retail analysts, said: "Clearly, there are some complexities involved in delivering to the Highlands and Islands and these may well require additional charges to be levied. However, the rationale for these is far from clear and the end result is a jumble of pricing structures and illogical pricing zones."Ultimately, the impact of this can be very off-putting to consumers and, although it is still growing at a rapid rate, the growth rate of online spending is most likely dampened."David Martin, head of policy for the Scottish Retail Consortium, said retailers were aware of the issues and were working to develop a fairer system."Online retailing is going to become more competitive - it is consumer-led People are doing more and more shopping online and the costs of doing business on the high street have risen dramatically."In order to ensure that consumers benefit from this we have to make sure that is being done in a way that is transparent, that it is clear and that it is fair."
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