On­line re­tail­ers con­tinue to pass the par­cel af­ter couri­ers fail to de­liver the goods

Com­plaints are up 48% as firms pop up to deal with the surge in on­line shop­ping. But, as Anna Tims writes, the prob­lem is we want it cheap

The Observer - - CASH -

Ben Thomas (not his real name) was star­tled to learn that the £262 ro­bot vac­uum cleaner he’d ordered on­line from Gearbest had been suc­cess­fully de­liv­ered. There was no sign of it at his Lon­don ad­dress and no card put through his let­ter box. He con­tacted the de­liv­ery firm, Yodel, and dis­cov­ered that the pack­age had been signed for, but not by him.

“A cus­tomer ser­vice op­er­a­tive told me that the driver had forged my sig­na­ture on his elec­tronic de­vice,” says Thomas. “When his man­agers ques­tioned him he first claimed that he had handed the pack­age to a mid­dle-aged woman of Mediter­ranean ap­pear­ance. He then changed his story and said a young blonde had re­ceived it. I can as­sure you I do not fit ei­ther de­scrip­tion and his GPS data shows he was nowhere near my prop­erty on the de­liv­ery date.”

Thomas claims Yodel re­fused to ad­dress his com­plaint. And the on­line re­tailer would not re­fund him be­cause Yodel showed the par­cel as de­liv­ered.

On the other side of town, Cal­lum Han­lon was await­ing de­liv­ery of a PlayS­ta­tion 4 and ac­ces­sories ordered from Ar­gos. Yodel was the courier and Han­lon was able to track the progress of his par­cel on its app. “When it showed that my ad­dress was next in line I kept close by my lounge win­dow which over­looks the street,” he says. “I then re­ceived a text to say a de­liv­ery at­tempt had been made, but that I was not home.

“I ar­ranged an­other de­liv­ery for the fol­low­ing work­ing day; the same thing hap­pened again. At no point was a de­liv­ery ac­tu­ally at­tempted. It took an­other four de­liv­ery at­tempts un­til the pack­age ar­rived ripped open, with one item miss­ing and the other boxes all dam­aged. I was charged £1 a minute to call Yodel’s cus­tomer ser­vice from my mo­bile and I was kept on hold for 34 min­utes only to be told that Yodel couldn’t help.”

Ar­gos later re­funded him the cost of the miss­ing item.

The surge in on­line shop­ping has meant a huge in­crease in the num­ber of parcels in tran­sit and since Royal Mail’s mo­nop­oly on postal ser­vices ended in 2006 the mar­ket has been flooded with firms of­fer­ing cheap al­ter­na­tives.

Cheap­ness can prove costly, how­ever. This year Yodel was rated the worstper­form­ing de­liv­ery firm for the sec­ond time in a sur­vey by web­site Moneysaving­ex­pert, with 57% of those ques­tioned de­scrib­ing their ex­pe­ri­ence as poor. Cus­tomers can’t eas­ily avoid it, how­ever, since few on­line re­tail­ers al­low a say in which de­liv­ery com­pany will be used to send a pur­chase and big play­ers, such as Ama­zon and Ar­gos, con­tinue to use Yodel to keep costs down.

Un­like Royal Mail, over­seen by com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor Of­com, Yodel and other ri­val com­pa­nies are un­reg­u­lated. There is no om­buds­man to ar­bi­trate com­plaints and the Postal Re­dress Ser­vice, run by the dis­pute res­o­lu­tion con­sul­tancy CEDR, only ac­cepts com­plaints against reg­u­lated mem­ber com­pa­nies, un­less a non-mem­ber agrees to be bound by its de­ci­sion.

The Al­ter­na­tive Dis­pute Res­o­lu­tion Scheme for Com­mu­ni­ca­tions in­vites dis­sat­is­fied cus­tomers to re­fer un­re­solved is­sues with un­reg­u­lated couri­ers and postal com­pa­nies but there’s a prob­lem. It can only deal with firms that have signed up to its scheme. Cur­rently none are named on its web­site and it hasn’t re­sponded to our re­quest for a list of mem­bers.

This leaves cus­tomers whose goods don’t turn up pow­er­less. In fact, un­der law they are not even cus­tomers be­cause the courier’s con­tract is with the sender, and only they can lodge a claim. A re­tailer is legally re­spon­si­ble for a par­cel un­til it reaches its des­ti­na­tion, but if the courier in­sists it has been de­liv­ered they are likely to refuse a re­fund.

Yodel says that it has in­vested heav­ily in im­prov­ing its ser­vice. “We de­liver 145m parcels each year and have con­sis­tently av­er­aged 82% pos­i­tive feed­back in our on­go­ing cus­tomer sur­vey over the last six months,” it says. “The In­sti­tute of Cus­tomer Ser­vice’s UK Sat­is­fac­tion In­dex shows us to be one of the most im­proved or­gan­i­sa­tions in the last year.”

It says that it is in­ves­ti­gat­ing Thomas’s al­le­ga­tion of theft and fraud. “Ap­pro­pri­ate ac­tion will be taken in due course,” it adds. “Data pro­tec­tion laws mean we are un­able to give the cus­tomer the driver’s de­tails, how­ever, we will fully sup­port the au­thor­i­ties with any in­ves­ti­ga­tion, should he wish to con­tact the po­lice.” Gearbest has now agreed to re­fund the cost of the goods.

As for Han­lon, Yodel says that it made re­peated at­tempts to de­liver the par­cel be­cause of “dif­fi­cul­ties” and has now of­fered to re­fund the cost of his calls as a ges­ture of good­will.

Con­sumer help web­site Re­solver says com­plaints against de­liv­ery com­pa­nies have risen 48% in the last year. One woman dis­cov­ered, two months later, that a miss­ing par­cel had been flung onto her garage roof. Rub­bish bins are prov­ing pop­u­lar hid­ing places when no one is at home, but are of­ten emp­tied by the coun­cil be­fore the pack­age is found.

“The num­bers are un­be­liev­able – nearly 10,000 com­plaints in three years,” says Re­solver founder James Walker.

“It is clear the in­dus­try is in des­per­ate need of tougher reg­u­la­tion and an om­buds­man scheme. Too of­ten we see re­tail­ers pass­ing the buck on to con­trac­tors. This is both un­ac­cept­able and wrong. If you con­tact a busi­ness to de­liver a pack­age, it’s their re­spon­si­bil­ity to make sure they do it prop­erly.”

Daria White of Lon­don ordered a fancy dress cos­tume from Cos­tumes Hire Di­rect. De­liv­ery was guar­an­teed for the fol­low­ing day, but it was four days be­fore Parcelforce World­wide showed up, by which time the event she needed the cos­tume for had been and gone. “I’ve asked Cos­tumes Hire Di­rect to re­fund me and they re­ferred me to their terms and con­di­tions which state that they are not li­able for late de­liv­ery what­ever the rea­son,” says White. This clause may be un­law­ful since the Con­sumer Rights Act 2015 holds the re­tailer li­able for the timely ar­rival of goods.

Michael Edgar, a com­mer­cial so­lic­i­tor at Lay­tons, says: “Where a trader has com­mit­ted to cer­tain timescales in its terms, it is bound to meet them; where no fixed date has been set, ser­vices – such as cos­tume hire – must be per­formed within a ‘rea­son­able’ time. If a cos­tume hire com­pany ad­ver­tised next-day de­liv­ery, and the cos­tume was de­liv­ered sev­eral days late, then this could breach the re­quire­ment, and the con­sumer could have a claim.”

Cos­tumes Hire Di­rect tells the Ob­server that it is the vic­tim of in­com­pe­tent postal ser­vices. “Parcelforce in­formed us that their de­pot had had some prob­lems which meant a lot of parcels were not de­liv­ered,” it says. It in­sists that its terms and con­di­tions ab­solve it of re­spon­si­bil­ity. But Parcelforce has now agreed to re­fund the £140 hire charge and add £30 in good­will.

At the heart of the prob­lem is our un­will­ing­ness to pay costly de­liv­ery charges. Many of the firms that un­der­cut Royal Mail use self-em­ployed driv­ers who fund their fuel and are paid per de­liv­ery. There is an in­cen­tive, then, to hurl a pack­age over a hedge rather than waste time wait­ing at the door and the elec­tronic de­vices, which make even au­then­tic sig­na­tures look fake, make fraud less de­tectable.

Martin Lewis, founder of Moneysaving­ex­pert, which be­gan its an­nual sur­vey of de­liv­ery firms four years ago, says cus­tomers must “com­plain to the re­tailer and make them jus­tify why they use firms with dire rep­u­ta­tions. If they won’t, we must stop buy­ing on­line from firms us­ing crap ser­vices.”

‘It is clear the in­dus­try is in des­per­ate need of tougher reg­u­la­tions … too of­ten re­tail­ers are pass­ing the buck’ James Walker, Re­solver web­site

De­liv­ery firm Yodel is rated the worst per­former, with 57% of cus­tomers de­scrib­ing its ser­vice as poor.

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