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Updated: 17 Feb 2022

Major retailers and delivery firms are failing disabled customers

What steps can firms take to ensure their products and services are accessible for everyone in the UK?

Seven in 10 disabled consumers faced one or more delivery problems in the past year, a joint survey with the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers has revealed.*

The survey of 704 disabled consumers found that half of those with a delivery issue said the courier didn't wait long enough for them to answer the door.

A quarter told us their parcels were left in an inaccessible way and the same proportion said that the courier did not provide the help they needed with their disability.

Which? also reviewed 10 of the biggest online retailers' checkout pages after many people told to us it was difficult to leave delivery instructions when placing orders.

We found that while some retailers provided textboxes for delivery instructions, others only allowed this function for some products and with sparse character limits. And other retailers didn't provide this function on its checkout pages at all.

Here, we look at the delivery issues faced by disabled consumers and call on retailers to make it easier for shoppers to add delivery instructions.

' Couriers never wait for me to get to the door'

Caroline from London told us delivery drivers regularly walk away before she has had time to get to the door.

Caroline said: 'As a wheelchair user, I can't reach the ground to pick the parcels up. If I manage to get the driver before they've driven off, they come back begrudgingly and make you very aware of this.'

With a recent Amazon order, Caroline received a notification that her parcel had been delivered, but she hadn't heard anyone knock on her door: 'I checked my CCTV where I saw, roughly an hour previously, the driver had run up to my door, literally dropped the package outside, didn't knock or ring the doorbell and just ran away.'

Frustratingly, Caroline has found it difficult to leave delivery instructions when shopping online.

'Being able to leave instructions is not as obvious as people may think,' she explained. 'I never knew this was an option until recently when a company brought my attention to it. When I started using this facility, I found most courier drivers just ignored the instructions.'

And to make matters worse, Caroline's found her complaints are dismissed or ignored entirely: 'I have complained in the past but little to nothing is ever done. I feel complaining is just a waste of my time.'

Unfortunately Caroline's experience isn't unique - half of those with a delivery issue in our survey said the courier didn't wait long enough for them to answer the door.

One in four participants told us their parcel was left in an inaccessible space, and the same proportion said the courier didn't provide the help they needed.

And, concerningly, one in 10 said their parcel was left in a dangerous way.

Major online retailers not doing enough

Half of participants who had problems with a delivery said they informed the retailer and/or the courier of their needs prior to the delivery.

But it wasn't always an easy process - two in five of those who informed the delivery firm or retailer of their needs said it was difficult to do so.

Some participants found character limits in textboxes made it challenging to explain their needs. 'I find the biggest issue is that if you can leave details, you can usually only use about 20 to 30 letters and this is not enough. Some delivery staff just don't care,' a shopper told us.

We looked at the checkout journeys for 10 of the biggest online retailers, including Amazon, eBay, Currys, Asos, Next, George at Asda, Argos, Very, M&S and John Lewis, and found there was no standard approach across these retailers.

Some offered textboxes or shoppers to add delivery instructions, while others only provided this function for certain items and with sparse character limits. Other retailers - including Asos, Currys, George at Asda, M&S and Next - don't offer a textbox function on their checkout pages at all.

Which? is calling on all online retailers to do more to ensure disabled consumers can specify their needs during the checkout process.

RetailerHow to leave delivery instructions
AmazonCustomers are able to input delivery preferences, such as designating a safe space, requesting delivery to a neighbour, or choosing delivery to a collection point, when setting up their account, which is passed on to its third party delivery couriers.. It has a textbox with 255 characters. In the event of concern, including accessibility, its customer service team works closely with the customer to understand their needs and arrive at a solution.
ArgosArgos does offer a textbox with 70 characters for home deliveries - on some products this won't be available due to a manufacturer's involvement in delivery.
AsosAsos customers cannot input delivery instructions on the retailer's checkout page. The retailer told us it works with a number of different delivery couriers, and its customers are able to input delivery instructions to the courier once one has been allocated to them and contacts them directly.
CurrysCurrys doesn't offer a textbox for customers to specify delivery instructions. It told us it's committed to improving the accessibility of its website. Customers with specific delivery requirements can follow up with its customer service team with precise instructions which will then be shared with the delivery team, it told us.
eBayOn the checkout page, you're given the option to message a seller in a textbox with 500 characters. Here you can specify any delivery instructions with the seller.
George at AsdaCustomers have to follow the chosen courier's delivery instruction function. Asda told us it's always looking at ways to improve the customer experience and is working with third party couriers and its own website team to ensure a smooth experience.
John LewisFor large items, which are delivered via a John Lewis & Partners van, you can add delivery instructions to a 50-character textbox. This option isn't offered for smaller items as they're sent via third party couriers. It told us it's looking to introduce the same function for smaller items, but in the meantime customers can leave instructions for smaller parcels with its customer services team or directly through the majority of its delivery carriers.

Delivery instructions rarely followed

But even when participants did manage to leave instructions, the vast majority found they weren't taken into account by the delivery firm.

Three quarters of those who notified the delivery company or retailer about their needs found their instructions were not well followed.

One participant told us: 'On the notes space I added information about my disabilities and that I need the parcel brought inside. This was met with eye rolling and a sigh. I felt a nuisance and under-valued.'

Others find that couriers ignore the disability badges on their front doors: 'Nine times out of ten parcels are left on my steps which means I have to bend over to reach them and this is difficult with my disability. I even have the wheelchair logo on a badge on my door and no one acknowledges it.'

Ofcom announced plans in December 2021 to introduce stronger protections for disabled consumers, so that delivery firms are required to have policies in place to meet their needs.

Ofcom told us: 'It's unacceptable that disabled customers are far more likely to experience significant problems with parcel deliveries. We've set out plans to strengthen protections for disabled customers to ensure they're treated fairly by delivery firms. If we don't see significant improvements in customer service, we'll consider enforcement action or further regulation.'

Complaining isn't easy or effective

Seven in 10 of those who complained to the delivery company found it difficult to do so, compared with three in ten of those who complained to the retailer.

Four in 10 of those that filed a complaint with the retailer said they were dissatisfied with the retailer's approach to dealing with their issue, while three in ten of those who complained to the courier said they weren't satisfied with how it was handled.

But half of participants who experienced an issue didn't make a complaint at all - with one in four saying they didn't think there was any point or that anything would be done about it.

One participant described how they struggled to get in touch with a delivery firm after a failed delivery: 'I couldn't find a telephone number for the delivery company. I struggle using the phone and use text relay and sometimes the calls are not accepted and the phone is put down.'

'It makes me feel frustrated, angry and discriminated against, as it is so much harder for me to contact the delivery companies,' they told us.

Gordon McCullough, chief executive at Research Institute for Disabled Consumers, told us: 'The changes that are needed in this case are very simple and low cost to implement - listening to people and responding. We hope this research can be both a wake-up call and positive step towards enabling retailers and delivery companies to review their services and ensure they are accessible for all the UK population.'

What are delivery firms doing to improve accessibility?

Each delivery firm has different advice on what to do if you need to leave specific instructions, as outlined in the table below.

Delivery firmHow to leave instructions
DHL ParcelDHL Parcel says customers with disabilities have a number of ways to update their driver including sharing delivery preferences through their app or delivery notifications with an option to leave to parcel in an accessible 'safe place', and for customers where their retailer is using post-purchase technology company HelloDone, this can be done via WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Customers can also use the 'Just a Minute' option, alerting drivers that they may need to wait longer than usual to give the customer time to get to their door.
DPDThe DPD app allows you to share your delivery preferences so drivers are fully briefed before every delivery. The text option doesn't have a character limit. For non-app users, DPD has delivery notifications which offer similar options. DPD is also developing a new option called 'Need More Time' for those who need a bit more time to get to the door which will launch later this year.
HermesHermes told us many retailers allow customers to add delivery instructions at the point of purchase which is then carried through to Hermes' IT system and is printed on the delivery label. Shoppers can also change where they want to receive their parcels once the delivery journey has started via the Hermes app, the tracking email or website. Customers can also provide delivery instructions via its web chat.
Royal MailRoyal Mail says it monitors customer feedback to identify rounds or individuals that need extra support. It then seeks to arrange support through a customer's local delivery office. You can specify delivery instructions via its customer service.
UPSYou can sign up to UPS My Choice free of charge which allows you to provide advanced delivery instructions such as leaving the package in a specific, safe location or delivering to a neighbour. If you don't want to sign up for UPS My Choice, you can choose to have your package re-directed to a UPS Access Point location if you're not going to be in.
YodelYodel encourages anyone with special requirements to provide instructions online or via its app. Customers can also contact its customer services team for support.

Your delivery rights explained

Complain to the retailer if your order is late, missing or has turned up damaged - even if you think it's down to a poor service from the courier, because your contract is with the retailer.

Think carefully before selecting a safe space or nominated neighbour - be aware if you give permission for your delivery to be left in a specified safe place or received by a nominated neighbour and something goes wrong, you will still be considered to have received the delivery.

Your delivery must be made without undue delay and within 30 days from the point of purchase unless you and the retailer agree otherwise, this is stipulated by the Consumer Rights Act 2015.

If your order arrives damaged or faulty, you have a right to refuse it and get a refund, repair or replacement. Understand your next steps if your goods arrive damaged in the post.

*Which? surveyed 704 members of the panel of the Research Institute for Disabled Consumers in November 2021 about their experience receiving deliveries.