A recent Office of Fair Trading (OFT) report found that while the internet offers opportunities for residents in these areas to access a wider range of suppliers than they can locally, delivery terms and costs are making it difficult for them to gain the best value when buying online.
Earlier this year, during its call for evidence on the challenges facing consumers living in remote communities, the OFT heard from people who were unhappy about delivery costs being presented late on in the buying process and who felt misled by sites that promised 'free UK delivery' but imposed shipping charges, or were let down by suppliers refusing to deliver to remote locations.
In order to ensure online businesses are meeting their legal obligations to customers in these areas, the OFT is advising business that sell online that they should do the following in order to be compliant with the law:
- display delivery charges clearly and early on in the purchasing process
- make sure any additional charges imposed on delivery to remote locations are justified and displayed clearly and early on in the purchasing process
- check that when the term 'Free UK Delivery' is used, it is not misleading, for example if it doesn't include remote locations recognise it may take longer to deliver to remote locations and explain this clearly and early on in the purchasing process
- only refuse to deliver to remote locations if it is justified by objective criteria, for example additional costs incurred because of the distance allow customers to return faulty goods for free, and to return unwanted goods that fall within the statutory seven-day cooling off period for free unless customers have been notified in writing that charges would apply.
This guidance and more resources are available from the OFT's Distance Selling Hub, which provides guidance for retailers on regulations that affect buying and selling goods and services via the internet, phone, mail order, email, interactive TV or text.
The Office of Fair Trading has launched guidance to help businesses that trade online comply with the distance selling laws and provide a better service to the half a million residents living in remote areas of the UK.