Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Marketers, especially those whose sales are largely or exclusively via the Internet, often offer goods at prices that exclude delivery charges.
Delivery costs are often considered material information (rules 3.3 and 3.4.4) – that is, information that will affect a consumer’s decision as to whether to purchase the product. So, if you’re stating prices for advertised products, or it would otherwise be misleading to omit it, then you need to state your shipping charges.
Omitting, hiding or presenting material information in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner breaks the rules (VistaPrint Ltd, 4 July 2012).
- What if the charges apply per product?
- What if the charges apply per order?
- What if we can’t calculate the charge in advance?
- What if we can’t deliver everywhere or have to charge more for some locations?
- What about ‘Free Delivery’ claims?
- What if the product is free?
- A word on inflated delivery charges
If delivery charges apply per product and consumers have no option but to pay it in order to receive the product, this becomes a non-optional charge (rule 3.18) that must be included in the stated price (Time Group Ltd, 27 April 2005).
If consumers can reasonably obtain the product without incurring the delivery charge, for example by collecting the item from a store, then it might be sufficient to make clear that charges apply for delivery and include the cost in a sufficiently prominent qualification (Empire Direct (UK), 26 February 2003).
Marketers should be aware, however, that the ASA may look unfavourably on on-line retailers who rely on one or a very limited number of collection points, as the reason for placing applicable delivery charges in a footnote.
If the charges apply per order then it’s likely to be acceptable to make clear that these charges apply, usually close to any stated prices for the products, and state the costs in a prominent qualification.
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 - but charges that are only revealed during the “checkout” process are likely to break the rules.
If it’s not possible to calculate the delivery charge in advance (for example, because it depends on the size and/or weight of the order, the amount ordered, the consumers’ location or other factors not known in advance of the consumer putting together their order) marketers need to make clear on the product pages that delivery charges will be applicable (rule 3.20), and also make clear how those charges will be calculated (rule 3.19).
If you can’t offer delivery at all to some locations then you need to make this clear upfront and avoid claims which imply that you can deliver to areas that you can’t (Achica Ltd, 6 August 2014).
As the UK is technically made up of England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and multiple islands off the coast of each, an absolute claim to offer “[Free/£X/Next Day] UK Delivery” should mean that you offer the advertised delivery service to any and all of these locations (Noa & Nani Ltd, 18 November 2015). If, for whatever reason, you are unable to extend your advertised delivery service to certain postcodes, the islands or the Highlands, 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.
We would generally advise caution when using the phrase “UK Mainland”, though it may be acceptable if you are only excluding the ‘islands’ and Northern Ireland, and you clearly qualify the claim to make this clear. However, the Highlands of Scotland would reasonably be considered to be part of the UK mainland – so claiming “[Free/etc.] UK Mainland Delivery” but excluding the Highlands or indeed any other location that falls within the major landmass of Great Britain is unlikely to be considered acceptable.
Delivery offers that are subject to exclusions or restrictions on availability should avoid absolute claims and instead make clear the limitations from the outset. Absolute claims like “FREE DELIVERY ON ALL ORDERS” or “FREE NEXT DAY DELIVERY ON ALL OF YOUR ORDERS THIS MONTH” are only likely to be acceptable when there are no restrictions (Roomstogo Ltd, 19 June 2013; Ebuyer UK Ltd, 17 December 2014). Qualifications detailing exclusions are likely to be viewed as misleadingly contradicting rather than clarifying these claims (rule 3.9).
Where exclusions or restrictions are based on location claims like “Free Delivery to Selected Locations” or “Free Delivery on Some Orders”, that are clearly and prominently qualified with clarifications about which locations are (or are not) included, are likely to be considered acceptable.
Similarly, if a minimum spend applies this will need to be made explicitly clear in the headline claim (e.g. “Free delivery on orders over £X”). However, as above, if marketers aren’t able to also offer this for all postcodes, that will need to be made clear in the headline claim as well (Roomstogo Ltd, 19 June 2013).
Marketers advertising a product as ‘free’ may charge the un-inflated cost of postage for the item provided that it is made clear up-front that this charge applies. However, if a marketer add adds handling, packaging, packing or administration fees, the item can no longer be described as “free” (Pua Training Ltd, 4 September 2013).
It’s important to note that inflated delivery charges can make price claims misleading. All delivery charges quoted should be accurate and reflect the true cost of delivery; they should not be used to make the selling price of the product seem more attractive (Priyankas Design Pvt Ltd, 6 March 2013).
For more advice on this topic, see CAP’s Enforcement Notice about Advertised Delivery Restrictions and Surcharges.
Last updated 12/4/2018