Parcel delivery: statement of principles

This statement of principles for parcel delivery is designed to assist retailers with their policies on delivering goods purchased over the internet by individual consumers.

Statement of principles for parcel deliveries

The following is designed to assist retailers in their policies on the delivery of goods purchased over the internet by individual consumers. It sets out best practice principles as to how retailers can ensure their delivery services meet the needs of their customers. 

This document has been developed with reference to:

  • key legal obligations relating to parcel deliveries required of retailers when trading online.
  • work undertaken into parcel delivery practices by organisations such as the Office of Fair Trading, Highland Council Trading Standards, the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS), Consumer Futures and Citizens Advice Scotland, highlighting both good practice and issues of concern.

The statement of principles has been developed following agreement between representatives of the Scottish Government, online retailers, parcel delivery operators and consumer organisations, that this course of action would be helpful for ensuring the parcels delivery market in Scotland works in the interests of consumers and business. The principles were developed by a short-life working group comprising representatives from a range of sectoral interests[1], but it should not be assumed that every member organisation involved, nor the wider membership they may represent, is in agreement with every aspect of the principles.  

The principles contained in this document may have particular relevance for operators selling to consumers in the Highlands and Islands and other remote, rural and island communities. 

  • the use of the statement of principles is voluntary and should be read alongside retailers’ legal obligations[2].  The Distance Selling Hub website (http://dshub., operated by the Trading Standards Institute, provides guidance for retailers and business support organisations on the regulations that affect the buying and selling of goods over the internet, including delivery aspects. Guidance may also be available from retailers’ own local authorities.
  • The statement of principles is not a code of practice, form of regulation or endorsed kite mark

Best practice principles for parcel delivery 

This section sets out principles for parcel deliveries that are designed to spread best practice, address current delivery problems experienced by some consumers, and ensure delivery services meet the current and future needs of consumers by building on the requirements of retailers’ legal obligations. A number of illustrative examples are provided at the end of this section. These examples have been provided to assist retailers’ understanding of ways in which the principles could be applied in their delivery practices. However, they should not be interpreted as the only way in which retailers can apply the principles or comply with their legal obligations. As such, any retailer’s failure to adhere to the principles or practices outlined below would not in itself, without an associated breach of the law being identified, provide a basis upon which a complaint about the retailer made to trading standards would be considered justified[3].  

Principle 1: Online retailers should ensure that their delivery pricing policies do not discriminate against consumers on the basis of their location. Geographic surcharges should be applied only when these costs are justified by objective criteria, such as actual and unavoidable costs incurred because of the distance. The level of any necessary geographic surcharges applied should reflect the true additional cost of delivery. 

Principle 2: Online retailers should ensure that their delivery coverage policies do not discriminate against consumers on the basis of their location. Online retailers should use their best endeavours to provide the widest possible delivery coverage, refusing delivery only when this can be justified by objective criteria. Possible objective criteria may be that the dimension and/or weight of the item falls outwith the scope of the universal service obligation[4].  

Principle 3: At the earliest possible stage in the online buying process, online retailers should ensure that consumers can easily access clear, timely and transparent delivery policy information, including information on any possible necessary geographic surcharges or delivery restrictions that might apply, and the reasons for such variations. 

Principle 4: Online retailers, working with their carriers, should endeavour to offer delivery options that are innovative and responsive to the changing market and needs of their consumers. Online retailers should provide consumers with transparent information about delivery options before they complete their order. 

Principle 5: Online retailers should seek to provide consumers with other relevant delivery information that they hold at the time the order is completed and/or dispatched.

Illustrative examples

Examples: Principle 1

A retailer avoids charging a price for delivery that is disproportionate to the actual cost of delivery.   

A retailer uses accurate and up-to-date full postcode and geographical information to ensure that its delivery prices and policies are applied on the narrowest postcode criteria as possible, for example postcode district or local area, rather than postcode area (the first two letters or numbers only). Such an approach could help to address the perception that some charging policies are applied arbitrarily to large geographic areas, rather than being based on actual logistical reasons or delivery costs. 

Subject to contract, retailers should consider the potential for offering delivery equivalent to the universal service where the alternative would be that the consumer is faced with a disproportionate cost.

Examples: Principle 2

Subject to contract, retailers should consider the potential for offering delivery equivalent to the universal service where the alternative would be that the consumer is faced with no delivery service at all.

A retailer has a contract with a courier that applies delivery restrictions to particular geographical areas. Subject to the terms of the contract, the retailer puts in place alternative or additional delivery arrangements, such as using a combination of couriers, in order to increase the geographic coverage it can offer.

Examples: Principle 3 

A retailer makes its headline delivery options immediately visible and clear by providing an obvious ‘Delivery’ button on its home page that links to specific information on delivery. This information includes the geographic area covered, whether surcharges apply, free and paid delivery options, and any timed/express and tracked delivery options. 

A retailer makes delivery information clear on product pages so that consumers can clearly see whether any delivery restrictions are in place, and what charges, including additional surcharges, may apply for delivery of the product to their area. This would help to address some consumers’ frustration at finding out about delivery charges or restrictions very late in the checkout process. 

A retailer ensures that details of its delivery prices, including any additional necessary geographic surcharges, are clearly displayed by the time the order is complete and it reaches the checkout stage.

Examples: Principle 4 

A retailer has a tool on its website where consumers can enter their postcode early on in the shopping process to receive information on whether delivery is available to their area and how long it would take.  

A retailer’s website allows consumers living in remote areas to choose between having an item delivered at home for a proportionate fee or having it delivered it to somewhere less remote, or to have an item delivered to an address which is not their home. 

A retailer and its carriers consider how delivery options and services could be used to increase the success of first-time delivery. Examples would be providing space for the consumer to provide additional delivery instructions, such as safe place information, allowing consumers to choose a timed delivery slot to suit when they will be at home, or to provide alternative options for redelivery if first delivery fails.

Examples: Principle 5 

A retailer clearly signposts their delivery terms and conditions by linking to the delivery terms. These terms and conditions include the policy and process for cancellation and returns, any signature and safe place requirements, how to access tracking information and how to raise a delivery issue or complaint.

A retailer provides its consumers with details of the delivery company that is delivering their parcel when it issues confirmation that the item has been despatched.




[1] Scottish Government (co-chair). Consumer Futures (co-chair), Scottish Retail Consortium, Federation of Small Businesses (Scotland). Office of Fair Trading, Citizens Advice Scotland, Highland Council Trading Standards, SCOTSS, AJG Parcels. Advertising Standards Authority also provided additional updates for the Principle 3 Example.

[2] A number of regulations set out legal obligations for retailers when trading online. These include the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Payments) Regulations 2013 (scheduled to be implemented in summer 2014, replacing the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000); the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, and the Price Marking Order 2004.

[3] The statement of principles should be read in conjunction with retailers’ legal obligations.

[4] The universal service obligation ensures that packages up to 20kg and meeting minimum and maximum size restrictions can be delivered to all areas of the UK at a standard price. The universal service provider is Royal Mail.

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