The Highland Council has made a breakthrough in its campaign to win a better deal for local consumers over delivery surcharges levied by internet companies.
Since starting their investigations, Trading Standards officers have persuaded more than 20 internet trading companies to alter their trading practices to comply with the law.
Only this week, Trading Standards have had confirmation that Dabs.com, a major internet trading company that provides the internet trading platform for BT Store, have moved towards a ‘flat fee’ delivery charge arrangement; and will no longer be applying a surcharge for deliveries to the Highlands, Islands or Northern Ireland.
eBay, whose activities now go far beyond simply being an internet auction site to include providing an internet trading platform for numerous small traders, have also agreed to correct a flaw in their systems that miscoded many mainland postcodes as being off-shore islands, which resulted in many people being incorrectly refused delivery by some businesses.
The charges imposed by internet and other remote traders for delivery to the Highlands has been widely recognised as a cause of significant concern and the surveys carried out by Trading Standards, Citizens Advice Scotland, Consumer Focus Scotland and the Office of Fair Trading has provided detailed evidence of the nature of the issues that are being experienced by consumers and the companies involved.
Using this information, Trading Standards is currently involved in the investigation into a large number of individual businesses and is working to ensure that they will eventually all be brought into compliance with the law. The legislation that applies requires businesses involved in distance selling and e-commerce to be absolutely clear and up-front with what delivery charges will apply to any purchase and not to make any misleading statements e.g. “Free Delivery to Mainland UK” when surcharges are made for deliveries to mainland Highland.
The significant number of other businesses identified from other surveys has resulted in a joint working agreement with Trading Standards in the other North of Scotland councils to share the very significant workload.
Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager with The Highland Council, said: “Our focus has been on those companies which featured most often in the survey responses or whose scale made them stand out as a priority to be tackled. Among those who have co-operated are some very large players in the marketplace. Great credit goes to a small team of highly motivated staff who have been involved in very detailed and exhaustive negotiations, which have resulted in agreements to voluntarily change the way these businesses handle delivery charges. This success will I have no doubt significantly affect the internet shopping experience of many consumers, both here in Highland and in other more remote communities.”
Councillor Graham Phillips, Chairman of the Council’s TECS Committee, said: “I applaud the work being done by Trading Standards on this issue and the other work they do and fully support the measured way that they are bringing these businesses into line. It has been clearly identified during their investigations that most of these businesses have not set out to mislead or rip off our consumers, but have instead been unaware of all that the law requires of them. It is also clear that there is still much work to do and although being made fully aware and in good time of what delivery charges will be incurred has got to be good news, removing any surcharges for delivery to our communities remains a valid goal.”
On the subject of removing all delivery surcharges, Councillor Drew Hendry, Leader of the Council, said: “I have asked that Trading Standards investigate the feasibility of a “Charter Mark” type scheme that would allow consumers to identify those internet traders who do demonstrate that they will not apply surcharges for delivery to the Highlands. This idea was also picked up by the OFT during their recent study into how markets work in remote communities and so I am hopeful that something like this can be developed. I do however recognise that this may take some time to establish and look to the way in which Trading Standards have managed to bring some businesses on-board and agree to publicise their changing attitudes to delivery to the Highlands and other remote communities as being the first step in giving clear public recognition to which businesses are Highland-friendly.”
The good news was reported to The Highland Council’s TECS Committee today (Thursday 16 August) during the annual Trading Standards Performance Review of 2011/12. In addition to providing a comprehensive review of their overall workload the report has highlighted some of the higher profile areas in which they have been active, including doorstep crime.
The cost to consumers of doorstep crime, including that caused by overcharging for work done, carrying out of unnecessary work, aggressive marketing and failure to provide legal cancellation rights etc. has been estimated from consumer complaint statistics as being in excess of £200,000 per annum. To combat this Trading Standards personnel have reported a number of partnership initiatives to target the problem and are working with one community group to have the first Cold Call Control Zone established in the Highlands before the end of the year.
Photo courtesy of nickpix2012 on Flickr