The problems of parcel delivery

11 August 2014
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What do bodily fluids, chocolate, fishing rods, mirrors and guitars have in common? No, not a dodgy camping trip. The answer is Parcel Monkey. More specifically, it’s that they’re all on the delivery company’s restricted items list.

At Moneywise, we’re inundated with complaints about courier services gone wrong and we’re sympathetic to the frustration so many of you feel. It seems there are very few of us who haven’t had to sit around at home waiting for hours on end for a delivery to either turn up late, or not at all.

Some readers have been in touch to tell us that items have gone missing after apparently being ‘left with a neighbour’. Others have found their packages tossed over hedges and into their gardens. Others have been left out in the rain. And only recently the Twittersphere has gone into overdrive following one user’s photo of his ‘sorry we missed you card’ from MyHermes.com that informed him his parcel had somehow got stuck on the roof.

While such instances are clear demonstrations of shoddy practice by courier companies delivering items that have been bought online – and so the customer has no say on the courier service being used – most of the complaints Moneywise receives are to do with damage to items shipped by couriers individuals have booked themselves.

Sometimes, damage has evidently been caused by the courier and the proof is usually damage to the package as well as the item. In the majority of cases we are asked to get involved in, damage has been caused to an item containing a glass element – mirrors, TVs and even car headlights.

In most complaints, the reader is struggling to get a refund from a low-cost parcel delivery company – such as Yodel or MyHermes.

While Moneywise always tries to help consumers being treated unfairly by companies, it has become obvious to us that there is confusion about the items parcel delivery companies refuse to carry and what their compensation policies cover.

Parcel Monkey, for example, has 185 items on its restriction list and most fall into the following categories – liquids, items with glass components, fragile goods, perishables and dangerous/illegal goods. myParcelDelivery.com has a similar list, featuring 40 items.

Both lists are complicated somewhat by the fact that they outright refuse to carry most of the items but will take others on a ‘no-compensation basis’. And the complications are made worse by the fact that when a customer books delivery online and selects the compensation option – for which they have to pay an additional charge if they need cover for more than around £20 – the automated system doesn’t always realise that the item features on the restricted list.

Roger Sumner-Rivers from ParcelHero.com explains this is because the computer systems can’t always recognise the variation in item names and descriptions typed in by users. This results in situations arising in which customers book courier services for items they believe the carrier is happy to take and which they have been able to buy compensation cover for only to discover when it gets lost or broken that they are unable to claim compensation.

While this is infuriating for customers affected, the industry says improvements are being developed, but acknowledges the issue remains a “challenge”.

However, all too often it is clear that the customer simply hasn’t read the restricted item list before booking delivery. For example, most complaints are about not being able to claim compensation for damage to TVs and mirrors, which usually feature on the ‘no-compensation’ list. While the customers are usually offered a refund on the delivery charge if these items get damaged, they quite understandably refuse compensation.

So to protect your items from damage and to save falling foul of no-compensation rules, always make sure you read the restricted items lists fully and if you do decide to book delivery regardless, make full use of the packaging guides the parcel companies print on their websites.