Shopping Online – Avoiding Hidden & Unfair Delivery Charges

Unfair delivery charges, specifically increased costs for those living in what many would classify as ‘remote or rural’ areas, continues to be an ongoing issue for many Scottish consumers. This can take the form of small-print delivery information that is missed at the point of purchase, with consumers facing payment for additional charges post-purchase in the form of surcharges. 

Scottish consumers in these areas, specifically in outlying postcodes in the Highlands, Orkney and the Inner and Outer-Hebrides can be put into positions of consumer detriment because of this disparity in delivery charges.

Previous actions have been successful in as far as awareness being raised that there is a major difference in the delivery charges for Scottish consumers, when compared to those living elsewhere in the UK.

Several retailers are now paying attention to issues with differences in delivery costs to rural and remote areas, with more transparent advertising, and in some instances even the same delivery costs to these areas, however there are situations when this is not the case.

Inconsistencies with mainland deliveries

One consumer contacted to discuss making a purchase from a website that offered free delivery on all orders in excess of £50, but had to read further into the small print after noticing delivery to her postcode, which was outside of mainland Scotland, would cost £10 per box ordered – a total of eight boxes –

“I haven’t made the purchase, I was just about to when I noticed how much the delivery charges were going to be…it does say in the subsection…I just didn’t expect that much when UK mainland was free.”

The same consumer indicated her concern about the company’s ability to charge so much for delivery to an island on items that delivery was free for elsewhere –

“Crazy how companies can get away with these delivery charges just because it’s to an island. Comes down to a postcode, when in reality, it won’t cost £80 for 8 boxes to get delivered.”

This is only one instance where the transparency of delivery charges has come into question. In this situation, the consumer was advised prior to purchase that it was going to cost more, and as such the trader had not breached any consumer regulation, however, raises questions around the fairness of these charges to those consumers living outside of what is classified as ‘mainland Scotland’.

Comparison of delivery charges

Another consumer that contacted us from Skye saw the small-print at the checkout, and realised that she wasn’t eligible for the free delivery that was offered, accepting a £35 surcharge, only to have the retailer contact her by email directly after the purchase was completed.

They advised that this would be increased to £135 due to how remote her location was. This is a difference of £135 on this one item being delivered, but what added insult to injury in this specific example was when she elected to arrange her own courier, who delivered to her for £16.

“I was made aware that the delivery wouldn’t be free as I am on the Isle of Skye and it would cost £35 extra, I was happy with this and then the trader emailed to advise it would no cost an extra £135. I chose to get my own courier who charged me £16 for the delivery”.

This indicates that the costs for delivery to areas outside of mainland Scotland are not always calculated based on the actual cost to the retailer. Care should be taken to check the expected costs to areas deemed to be remote or rural by the retailer.

You can check how much delivery companies charge to ship to your address by visiting

Additional charges after checkout

There are other situations where the costs of delivery are not outlined at the point of sale, and are brought to the attention of the consumer later in the process –

“…I hit the estimate shipping button and it showed free for 2-5 days or £4.95 express…I chose free and continued to pay and place the order. The next day I got an email saying I needed to pay £9.90 surcharge for delivery to my postcode and either had to pay or cancel order…”

In this instance, the consumer was referred to the delivery checker, which advised of the cost of postage based on the postcode entered, however upon later inspection of the website, the increased costs were outlined on the traders’ website. The process of purchase was not entirely clear at the point of purchase and the consumer was referred to the trader to complain, with a referral made to Trading Standards for investigation due to the process of purchase.

Postcode generalisation

There are additional concerns when a retailer ‘generalises’ a postcode as remote or rural. There have been instances where consumers in Perthshire postcodes have been designated as being ‘remote’ or ‘rural’ when this is not a true reflection of the location.

Consumers who feel that they have been misled about delivery charges during a sale have the law on their side.

Consumer Protection

The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 regulates unfair practices used by traders and create criminal offences for traders that breach them. This includes unfair or misleading delivery charges.

Part 4A of the Regulations gives consumers the right to redress in certain circumstances. If the issue with the delivery charge was a deciding factor for a consumer in making the purchase, then they have the right to redress, which could be the right to cancel the contact or seek damages, but in most instances, this will involve seeking an appropriate discount on the price that was paid.

In instances where a consumer has a right to redress, and the trader is unwilling to rectify the issues themselves, the consumer may be able to bring civil court proceedings to enforce their rights.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) may also be sought in situations where consumer protection regulations have been breached. have put together our top tips when shopping online, to ensure that you are not mislead on delivery charges, and what to do in the worst-case scenario –

  • Check the small print before purchasing – Check for phrases such as ‘Mainland UK Only’ when free delivery is advertised. Those in remote areas may be charged considerably more.
  • Check costs before you buy – Check how much delivery companies charge to ship to your address by visiting
  • Understand your rights when things do go wrong – By being aware of your consumer rights, you can more effectively highlight your concerns to retailers, especially when there is evidence of misleading sales practise.
  • Complain to the retailer in the first instance – By going to the retailer directly in the first instance when something is not right, we can resolve some issues without the requirement of further action.
  • Report unfair deliveries – Help us to tackle the problem of unfair deliveries. Report instances of unfair delivery charges using our simple online form at

If you have concerns about unfair delivery charges, or any other consumer matter, you can contact on 0808 164 6000. We are open 9am-5pm, Monday-Friday.

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