Committees of Advertising Practice publish advice note on delivery charges in ads

CAP says that with internet shopping becoming part and parcel of our everyday lives it’s crucial that advertisers are clear about any charges that might apply when delivering products to consumers.

Does an ad need to state delivery charges?

CAP says that if prices for advertised products are stated in the ad or it would otherwise be misleading to omit them, the ad must also state the delivery charges. Delivery costs are material information (rule 3.4.4), i.e. information that will affect a consumer’s decision as to whether to purchase the product. Therefore, if a product is priced at £169, but there’s an additional charge of £25 for postage that is not made clear, or hidden in lots of terms and conditions, the ASA is likely to consider the ad misleading.

What if the charges apply per product?

If delivery charges apply per product and the consumer cannot obtain the product without paying the delivery charges, then the cost should be included in the price of the product (rule 3.18).

If the consumer can obtain the product another way (i.e. collect it themselves or from a store) then it may be acceptable to make clear that charges apply for delivery and include the cost in a sufficiently prominent footnote. However, the ASA is likely to look unfavourably on retailers that rely on a very limited number of collection points as the reason for placing applicable delivery charges in a footnote.

What if the charges apply per order?

If the charges apply per order then it is likely to be acceptable to make clear that these charges apply and state the cost in a prominent qualification (rule 3.20). In the case of an e-tailing website, it may be acceptable to state the relevant charges on a separate page, provided this page is clearly linked or signposted to from the stated price for the product.

Delivery charges that are only revealed during the “checkout” process or after the customer has made a transactional decision are likely to break the rules.

What if it is not possible to calculate the postage in advance?

If it is not possible to calculate the delivery charge in advance, marketers need to make clear on the product pages that delivery charges are applicable, and also make clear how those charges will be calculated (rules 3.19 and 3.20).

What if the retailer cannot deliver everywhere or has to charge more for some locations?

If delivery cannot be offered to some locations then this needs to be made clear upfront. Claims that imply that the retailer can deliver to areas that it cannot, such as “Great brands, anywhere you can get online”, should be avoided.

The ASA often receives complaints about claims for “UK Delivery” or “UK Mainland Delivery”. However, these claims are often ambiguous and many advertisers land themselves in hot water for not making clear to where they actually deliver. For example, often the Isle of Wight is excluded for “UK Delivery” or there is an extra charge to deliver to Northern Ireland, despite both being part of the UK. The same goes for the Scottish Highlands, which are frequently excluded even when “Mainland” delivery is offered.

Offers of “[Free/£X/Next Day] UK Delivery” mean delivery to anywhere in the UK. If, delivery is not possible to certain postcodes, then such a claim is likely to mislead. Qualifying this with exclusions is unlikely to be sufficient as this is likely to result in a misleading contradiction rather than a clarification.

What about “Free Delivery” claims?

Absolute claims like “Free UK Delivery” or “Free delivery on all orders” imply that no customer, regardless of how much they buy or where they are, will incur delivery charges.

If a minimum spend applies this will need to be made explicitly clear in the headline claim (e.g. “Free delivery on orders over £40”). However, if marketers are not able to offer this for all postcodes, this will also need to be made clear in the headline claim. Qualifications detailing exclusions are likely to be viewed as misleadingly contradicting rather than clarifying these claims.

What if the product is free?

Rule 3.24.1 makes clear that an item cannot be described as “free” if the customer has to pay packing, packaging, handling or administration charges.

This means that marketers may charge postage for a “free” item as long as it reflects the true cost of the postage (for example, a stamp). However, as soon as handling, packaging, packing or administration fees are added, the item can no longer be described as “free”.

Inflated delivery charges

The ASA is unlikely to look favourably on those charging excessive postage or packaging fees, if this does not reflect the true cost of postage, as this can make any product price claims misleading. Whatever amount is charged, it must be clear, honest and fair. To read the advice note in full, click here.