Michael Russell, the MSP for Argyll & Bute has voiced concerns about the high surcharges for delivery that his constituents face when using online retail and has suggested a number of innovations to help improve their situation.
A recent survey of over four hundred online retailers by Citizens Advice Scotland showed that in 2015, rural Scottish customers paid nearly four times the price of urban delivery for online purchases when surcharges are applied. And whilst 50% of retailers apply these charges another 11% refuse to deliver to parts of the Scottish Islands entirely.
Speaking in a member’s debate on the issue in the Parliament Mr Russell pointed out that the vast majority of his constituency of Argyll and Bute is affected and he offered a number of possible ways forward including, the preservation and expansion of the Royal Mail’s Universal Service Obligation. Mr. Russell encouraged the Scottish Parliament to work with SNP MPs to help drive reform of the USO at Westminster
Mr. Russell emphasized that guaranteed delivery is vital, and that the USO, “needs to be modernized to accommodate the current use of parcels”
Second, the Scottish Parliament should work to help educate businesses and consumers about the Consumer Contract Regulations that cover online retail. The recent CAS survey found that nearly a quarter of online retailers deduct the cost of delivery from returns. For rural consumers with high delivery charges, this makes returns infeasible in many situations.
Finally, Mr. Russell commented on a few opportunities for simplifying and reducing the cost of delivery for consumers and businesses. These included, “last mile consolidation” for packages, delivery directly to ferries, and delivery to local post shops and post offices. These ideas can be found in more detail in the CAS survey, linked below. Mr. Russell emphasized the “special circumstance” that exist which would allow communities to work with Cal Mac given the public ownership of CMAL.
Mr. Russell finished his speech by recounting the experience of the community store in Jura. Here, community efforts have helped mitigate the problem by a collaborative approach to picking up supplies when they are delivered to Islay. As Mr. Russell described it, “community members volunteer to travel to Islay from Jura, pick up the packages, and deliver them back to the store. That is not only for the stores’ deliveries, but also for residents of Northern Jura, who face a long journey to get to Islay. This is community action from an earlier age but it can help solve problems now.”
For more information on the Postcode Penalty issue, find the CAS report here: http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/postcode-penalty-distance-travelled
You can view my contribution to the debate below: