IoS investigation: The great online delivery scandal

Christmas was chaotic for thousands of consumers who were left out of pocket when packages went astray

Hundreds of thousands of people who opted to shop online this Christmas were left frustrated by disastrous service, with many still struggling to trace missing parcels or get their money back.

There is growing alarm that consumers are losing out because of glaring flaws in the quality of service provided by some parcel courier firms. Experts warned that poor regulation was compounding the situation, leaving cash-pressed shoppers to foot the bill.

Politicians warned that consumers were struggling to seek redress, with some retailers obscuring customers' rights, including the right to a refund. During December, industry executives estimated that at least 225,000 parcels each day failed to arrive when promised.

The worst problems faced by disappointed online shoppers included Christmas presents disappearing; packages being left at the wrong address; couriers claiming addresses didn't exist; days wasted waiting for non-existent deliveries; and spending large sums calling premium-rate numbers to try to track down missing parcels.

Research by the consumer campaigners Which? found that 60 per cent of people shopping online last year had problems with delivery of their item. Home deliveries have exploded in the past few years, creating a profitable market for couriers. One firm handled 50 per cent more business in December 2012 than in December 2011.

Labour's consumer affairs spokesman Ian Murray, who was left out of pocket after his goods went astray, said yesterday: "It needs to be made easier for consumers to seek redress. I suspect lots of people get turned over because they don't know the rules. This is a regulatory problem. Legislation needs to be simpler and clearer. The consumer ends up stuck in the middle."

Martin Lewis, a consumer champion and the force behind MoneySavingExpert.com, called for "an ombudsman-type system" to solve disputes. He criticised retailers for failing to put delivery firms under enough pressure, adding: "We, as consumers, need to get more militant. The fact is these companies are crap."

A Which? spokesman said: "People's knowledge of their delivery rights is poor. If retailers want to keep their customers happy and keep business coming in, it is vital they use courier firms that won't let people down. But consumers must get clued up on their delivery rights or they will remain vulnerable to receiving a substandard service."

A complete picture of the scale of the fiasco has yet to emerge, but Citizens Advice said the number of people seeking online guidance about courier services had doubled in December compared with the previous month.

Baroness Hayter, an opposition spokeswoman for consumer affairs, said it was frustrating that shoppers couldn't choose their preferred courier. "It's the producer that decides which company to use, so consumers can't shop around. This isn't a regulated area, so the Government can't enforce this."

Lady Hayter, who is the former chair of the legal services consumer panel, said it was clear that parcel delivery firms "need to improve their service". She added: "The people who can make this happen are the retailers." She urged anyone who had suffered a bad experience to complain. "The only way companies will improve their service is if they know when they are going wrong. I know it's boring, but it's really important that people write in and complain. Please ask for your money back, or a reduction in price."

Mr Murray, Labour MP for Edinburgh South, said a firm that let him down was DPD, which claimed the address he had provided for the delivery of some Christmas presents did not exist. It was, in fact, his constituency office in the Scottish capital. Mr Murray still hasn't received the goods – racing cars for his seven-year-old niece Isla, and two-year-old nephew Harris, ordered from the internet retailers I Want One of Those; nor has he received a refund.

"I'm £100 out of pocket as I had to buy them from somewhere else so the children could have them on Christmas Day. I've been stonewalled by the retailer. There's nothing on the form they sent me to suggest they will refund the money," he added. He said one of the reasons the retailer claimed it had had difficulty delivering his order was partly "due to Scotland not being part of the UK".

Simon Veale, an authority on the domestic parcel industry who runs the courier firm GFS, admitted that many companies failed to handle complaints very well. "That is a real challenge for the industry. You can't just throw people at the complaints issue and resolve it because you would have to double the number of people working in your customer service centre. Carriers need a sexy way of letting people know [what is happening with their deliveries] and that's not there."

Gary Winter, European sales and marketing director for the German courier Hermes, said it had been a "major challenge to manage December's unprecedented demand". He admitted some parcels "inevitably" went astray but insisted the company, which had 25 per cent more business last month than the previous year, had improved its service overall.

Neil Beauchamp, who runs a courier firm, admitted there were a lot of problems with neighbours refusing to yield parcels they had signed for to their rightful owners. He added: "Mistakes happen, especially with the volumes that we do. We're allowed to leave parcels in safe places. Clearly, the doorstep isn't safe."

Dick Stead, chairman of Yodel, which handled 14 million parcels in December, defended his company's performance, which he said had prompted a number of major clients to use his network as other suppliers struggled. After losing contracts with Mothercare, John Lewis and Debenhams last year, Mr Stead predicted the company would shortly "win a number of new contracts".

Additional reporting by Tali Kord

The customer

Nicola Arthur, 25, is a beauty blogger from Lancashire. She says she doesn't "even know where to begin" about her bad experiences with the delivery firm Yodel. She blamed them for ruining her Christmas party: the dress, bag and shoes from the online retailer Very never turned up.

"I waited in all day and nothing turned up. I rang at 9pm, the last time for delivery, and they said to call back if it wasn't delivered first thing on Saturday. Nothing turned up. Then [Very] instructed me to chase up Yodel myself. I found out that the delivery driver had the details of the package but it wasn't on the delivery van as it had been lost. I instructed them to return it to the sender if they found it. When I got my phone bill, the calls totalled about £15."

The driver

Steve, 48, works for Interlink Express. Like many of the older generation of courier drivers, he insists the problems lie with the temporary, often younger drivers, who are hired to cope with peak periods such as Christmas.

"Companies do not take the time to properly train them and instead send them out with no idea what they are doing." This inevitably leads to disaster, he added, especially when the recipient isn't home. "Safe areas for parcels are very specifically defined. In any case, parcels aren't supposed to be left outside without the customer's written permission. But how would an inadequately trained agency courier know this?" He blames companies for being greedy: for taking on more than they can handle.

Know your rights

Cancelling your order You can cancel your online order for goods from the moment you place it to up to seven working days after you receive it.

Returning goods If an online shop doesn't explain who pays to send returned goods back, then it must pay. There are exceptions: you can't return CDs, DVDs or software if you've broken the seal on the wrapping.

Returning faulty goods Items must be "fit for their purpose", as described, and of satisfactory quality. If you have to return an item because it fails on either count, give the retailer the chance to collect it, or ask for the postage back.

Contacting the retailer An online shop has to provide a geographical address and an email address. Your contract is with the retailer, which must reimburse you for any problems. Complain to the retailer, not the courier.

Life and Style
Customers can get their caffeine fix on the move
food + drink
Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Arts and Entertainment
tvSpielberg involved in bringing his 2002 film to the small screen
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape