Advertising watchdog cracks down on misleading delivery claims

Nyree Stewart
12 April 2018

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned retailers to stop ‘misleading’ consumers with false claims about delivery charges. 

It has published an enforcement notice warning advertisers to about providing incorrect information on UK delivery costs that do not cover the whole of the country. 

It follows complaints that some consumers in certain parts of the UK, particularly Scotland and Northern Ireland, are subject to additional charges for delivery of items that are not made clear from the beginning. 

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP), which writes the rules governing advertising that are then enforced by the ASA, states: “We have seen misleading absolute (ie definitive and unconditional) ‘UK delivery’ claims when the charge or service stated does not apply across the UK.”

It adds: “Please take immediate action to ensure your advertising complies, including online. If we see continued problems in this area after 31 May 2018, we will take targeted enforcement action to ensure a level-playing-field. This may include – where advertisers are unwilling to comply – referral to our legal backstop.”

The legal backstop means advertisers that fail to comply with the rules or work with the ASA and CAP can be referred to the Trading Standards Authority for non-broadcast advertising, or Ofcom for broadcast advertising, for further sanctions such as fines. 

Guidance published with the enforcement notice warns advertisers they should not make incorrect absolute delivery claims and suggests: 

  • UK delivery - Includes England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, mainland and islands - although crown dependencies such as the Channel Islands and Isle of Man do not need to be included. It should only be claimed if the price is the same across the country with no surcharges. 
  • GB delivery – Includes England, Scotland and Wales, mainland and islands, but excludes Northern Ireland. In this case, surcharges or restrictions to Northern Ireland must be clear and upfront and not hidden under ‘international deliveries’ or similar. 
  • Mainland UK – A better claim to use if Northern Ireland is excluded. It includes England, Wales and Scotland mainland only, or parts connected by road or rail, such as Skye or Anglesey. It does not include islands. Surcharges or restrictions to all excluded areas must be clear and upfront.
  • Other claims, including GB ex Highlands and Islands – For other delivery policies, advertisers should not use absolute claims such as UK delivery or mainland UK delivery. Charges, surcharges and restrictions to all areas must be clear and upfront.

In addition, the ASA and CAP warn that qualifications about delivery should not contradict the main claim, as this could still be considered misleading. 

For example, in one complaint a website included the claims “free delivery when spending over £200” and “free UK delivery on all orders” but the consumer lived in northern Scotland and was told his postcode incurred a delivery charge of £35. 

The ASA notes that while there was text on the site that stated deliveries north of Glasgow or Edinburgh would incur this charge, “this contradicted rather than clarified the absolute headline delivery claims, which were therefore misleading”. 

Guy Parker, chief executive of the ASA, says: “Companies must honour the delivery claims they’re making or stop making them. It’s simply not fair to mislead people about whether parcels can be delivered to them, or how much it will cost.”

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