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.
Often, consumers are required to pay delivery charges when making purchases, particularly when shopping online. Where marketing communications state the price of a product, any delivery, freight, or postal charges which apply must also be clearly stated in the ad. If the charge cannot reasonably be calculated in advance, the ad should still state that the charges are payable (rule 3.20).
Delivery costs are also 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, or if it would otherwise be misleading to omit it, then you need to state any applicable delivery charge.
If delivery charges apply per product and consumers have no option but to pay these to receive the product, this becomes a non-optional charge that must be included in the stated price (rule 3.18). If the delivery charge is known in advance, this should be stated. An ad for shoes was considered misleading by the ASA because the ad stated the price of the product, but did not make the total price, including the delivery fee, clear (Groupon, 30 May 2018). An ad for event tickets on the Get Me In website stated, "Prices may vary from face value and exclude order & delivery fees [hyperlink] (applicable per transaction)”. The ASA considered that the UK delivery fee could be calculated in advance, and as such the ad should have stated the applicable UK delivery charge alongside the ticket price. Because it did not, the ad was considered misleading (GETMEIN! Ltd, 07 March 2018).
If consumers can reasonably obtain the product without incurring the delivery charge, for example by collecting the item from a store without a charge, then it might be sufficient to make clear that charges apply for delivery and include the cost in a sufficiently prominent qualification. Marketers should be aware however, that it may not be acceptable to place applicable delivery charges in a footnote if there are only one or a very limited number of collection points, meaning that most customers would need to pay for delivery.
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. Charges that are only revealed during the checkout process are likely to break the rules.
For services which enable customers to make multiple orders, such as takeaway delivery services, ads must make clear if multiple delivery fees apply. An ad for Deliveroo was considered likely to mislead consumers because the ad implied that customers could make orders from different restaurants to be delivered together in a single order, and did not make clear that a separate delivery charge would apply to each order from each restaurant (Deliveroo, 04 December 2019).
The Code acknowledges that sometimes it is 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 consumer’s location or other factors not known in advance of the consumer putting together their order. In these circumstances, marketers need to make clear that delivery charges will be applicable on the product pages (rule 3.20), and 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 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 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 an absolute “UK delivery” claim is likely to mislead. Qualifying this with exclusions is unlikely to be sufficient as this will result in a misleading contradiction rather than a clarification.
Because the Highlands of Scotland are part of the UK mainland, ads should not state “UK Mainland Delivery” if this excludes the Highlands, or any other location that falls within the major landmass of Great Britain. It may be acceptable to refer to UK mainland when excluding the islands and Northern Ireland, providing the ad clearly qualifies the claim to make this clear.
Marketers must ensure that free delivery claims are accurate. An ad which stated "... we'll deliver your tickets for free too!*" was considered misleading because, although ticket collection was free, there was a charge for delivery (Click Travel, 14 February 2018). If consumers can pay for delivery in advance, for example, by paying a set price for unlimited next day delivery for a year, delivery should not be referred to as “free”. The ASA upheld complaints about the claim “free delivery” because the service offered consumers a certain number of deliveries for an up-front fee. Although the service did represent a saving compared to the standard individual delivery charge, delivery should not have been described as “free” (Ozsale Pty Ltd, 12 December 2018).
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 (Ebuyer UK Ltd, 17 December 2014). Qualifications detailing exclusions are likely to be viewed as misleadingly contradicting absolute claims like this, rather than clarifying them (rule 3.9).
If delivery exclusions or restrictions are based on location, the ad should make this explicitly clear. It is likely to be acceptable to make claims like “Free Delivery to Selected Locations” or “Free Delivery on Some Orders”, providing they are clearly and prominently qualified with clarifications about which locations are (or are not) included.
Similarly, if other conditions or restriction apply, which mean that free delivery is only available on certain orders, this must be made clear. For example, 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”). 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. This applies to the true un-inflated cost of postage only; If a marketer add adds handling, packaging, packing or administration fees, the item can no longer be described as “free” (Code rule 3.24.1). See Pua Training Ltd, 4 September 2013.
The ASA upheld complaints about an app for a photo printing company which stated, “FREE PHOTO PRINTS DELIVERED TO YOUR DOOR”. In some cases, consumers were paying more than the minimum cost of postage to obtain the “free” prints, therefore the prints should not have been described as “free”. In addition, the ad breached the Code because it did not make clear that consumers had to pay for postage to obtain the free prints (PlanetArt UK Ltd, 03 August 2022).
See 'Use of free' for further information on advertising something as 'free'.
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.