Postal Complaint Journeys

Key Themes & Stories

UK consumers are among the biggest online shoppers in Europe, with 51% saying they prefer to shop online than in store [1]. As modern consumers, many of us have to engage with the parcel delivery market. This can be because items aren’t physically available where we live, or to be able to get the best deal.

But people often have no choice in which company delivers their parcel. This means they cannot always choose a delivery company that they like and it’s hard to avoid delivery companies they’ve had poor experiences with. 

"It’s not the company you’re ordering it from, it’s who they choose as their delivery company..."

"It’s not my decision, I'm not the one that chose to use you [the delivery company]…"

Sometimes things don't go according to plan with parcel deliveries.

Each year, UK consumers receive around 2 billion parcels in the post. It's inevitable that problems do sometimes occur with these deliveries. Previous research from Citizens Advice found that 7 in 10 people had experienced at least one problem with parcel delivery in the past year [2]. When things do go wrong with a delivery, it can be difficult to complain and get the issue resolved.

"I feel like I’m having to follow them up…Trying to get any information out of these companies is next to impossible which is the frustrating part of it."
"I tried to reply to the email but it wouldn’t allow it. So, I went online to search for a telephone number to ring them. It was a bit of a palaver."
"I've tried to contact them [the parcel delivery company], but there's just no number, and the response from filling out the online forms just reiterated the tracking details. So, again, still couldn’t speak to anyone."

So, consumers have to engage with the parcels market, there is little choice and things can be hard to fix when they go wrong.

We found that when things go wrong and are difficult to fix, this has 3 impacts on consumers.

Here are 3 case studies that show what happens to people when it’s hard to complain about a delivery issue...

What happened?

Gwen’s seahorses fell sick and she realised it was because of a salt imbalance in their tank. She ordered new salt, selected the day it should arrive and took the day off work to wait for the salt.

The salt didn’t arrive that day and she wasn’t notified as to the reason.

She began feeling anxious. She needed the salt to improve the water for her seahorses.

She sent an email to the delivery company confirming delivery for the following day and booked another day off work.

The salt didn’t arrive the second day either. By now Gwen was quite worried.

She contacted the delivery company and was told to drive to the depot to pick up the salt. But the parcel was damaged and she wasn’t allowed to take it home.

Gwen researched her consumer rights. She wrote a formal complaint letter to the delivery company, outlining the impacts on her.

"I was so upset by this point I knew I had to do something…there had just been too many things going wrong."

The delivery company responded, but Gwen felt it was impersonal and unsatisfactory.

Doing further research, Gwen realised she actually needed to contact the retailer.

What was the outcome for Gwen?

As Gwen didn’t know her consumer rights at the beginning of the complaint process, the salt delivery was delayed. Her seahorses died because of the salt imbalance in their tank.

Gwen had to take multiple days off work and lost money as a result.

She also experienced uncertainty for a long period of time. This was stressful and unpleasant.

How could this processes have been improved?

If Gwen had known her consumer rights at the start of the process, she would have known that she should have gone straight to the retailer who sold her the salt. This could have saved a lot of time and effort.

If the parcel delivery company had been more empathetic and understanding, she might have felt like the complaint process was smoother.

What happened?

Debra ordered some trainers as a birthday gift for her husband.

She received an email notification from the retailer saying the trainers would be delivered in the next 7 days.

Over the next week, she didn’t receive any further notifications from the retailer. She didn’t receive anything from the parcel delivery company either.

"Communication is key because the more you know, the more you can plan."

One day, when taking out the recycling she found the trainers at the bottom of her bin – put there by a delivery driver.

She felt annoyed and decided to complain.

"We work really hard to be able to order stuff, for it to not then be taken care of is quite upsetting to be honest."

Debra struggled to find contact details for the delivery company. This made her even more frustrated.

Finally, she found a number online.

She called it and spoke to a staff member. They appeared not to believe her story about the trainers in the bin.

The staff member said it could have been someone else who left the trainers in the bin. They also refused to believe that the delivery driver hadn’t left a delivery card.

Debra wanted to continue with the complaint process, but she didn’t feel like she would be believed.

She had a poor experience when trying to get her point across.

She abandoned the complaint process, feeling unsatisfied.

What was the outcome for Debra?

Debra had to spend a lot of effort to find the delivery company’s contact details. This made her think that it might be too much effort to continue the process.

Debra went through a period of uncertainty, not knowing if or when the trainers she’d bought for her husband would arrive. The poor communication from the retailer and the delivery company left her in the dark about what was happening.

How could this process have been improved?

If there had been clear channels of communication and easy-to-find contact details for the delivery company, Debra could have got through to them much more easily.

Debra wanted the delivery company to acknowledge that there’d been an issue - the trainers were left in the bin. If the delivery company had been more sympathetic, Debra would have had a better experience.

What happened?

Dave bought two picture frames from an individual seller on a major online marketplace. But when he received the frames, they were damaged.

Dave refused to receive the frames and asked the delivery company to send it back to the seller. Dave felt the delivery driver was dismissive and confrontational. Dave continued to refuse and the delivery driver left, taking the damaged picture frames with him.

Dave sent a letter to the individual seller, the online marketplace and to the delivery company. He complained about the damage and the delivery driver’s attitude.

Only the individual retailer replied to Dave.

Dave waited for compensation or for the frames to be re-sent. But because the delivery company wasn’t being responsive, the seller had to delay compensation.

In the end, Dave got tired of waiting and decided to buy the picture frames elsewhere.

"The retailer was taking too long… [The delivery company] seemed to be dragging their feet… After a while I just decided to leave it after asking for compensation."

What was the outcome for Dave?

Dave had to put in unexpected effort. He was ping-ponged between the seller, the online marketplace and the delivery company, feeling like the “middle man”.

He wanted an apology or a final resolution from the delivery company and the online marketplace.

He didn’t receive any acknowledgement or resolution. He felt dissatisfied at the end of the complaints process.

"[The postal operator] replied to me with a letter saying, ‘Yes, we apologise, but, our contract is with the seller and your contract is with the seller’. So, they told me it was down to the seller to compensate me… But it wasn’t clear."

How could this process have been improved?

If there had been better communication and an acknowledgement that there had been an issue with the frames, Dave might have felt much more satisfied with the complaint process.

"[I felt] angry, nervous, because you’ve paid that money to the retailer and you’ve got no goods..."

These detriments had an even greater impact on some of the disabled consumers we spoke to

As part of the research, we spoke to 7 disabled consumers [3]. They told us that it’s particularly difficult for them to reschedule a delivery if the parcel isn’t delivered. Previous research from Citizens Advice shows that disabled consumers are twice as likely to rely on public transport to collect a parcel if they have to go to a collection point [4].

"I’ve had the issue of having to get to somewhere to collect the parcel in the first place, or if they say, ‘Do you want it redelivered?'  I say, 'Well, yes, but if I'm in hospital or I've got treatment and I'm called in at short notice, I can't operate on that basis."
"I only have one lung so I order lots online to save me getting worn out going to the shops and carrying everything home myself."

The disabled people we spoke to also said that they sometimes need more time to get to the door when their parcel is delivered. Citizens Advice has previously found that 1 in 3 disabled consumers miss deliveries because they aren’t given enough time to get to the door [5].

"I wish there was an option to let the delivery driver know it takes me longer to get to the door [because my mobility is limited since having a stroke]."

What happens next?

Citizens Advice will use what Gwen, Debra, Dave and others experienced to improve the parcels market.

"I do feel somewhat in the hands of fate…I don’t feel like I can affect the outcome very much."
"I contacted the retailer and they were telling me to contact the postal operator. The postal operator told me to contact the retailer. I was just asking to have direct communication … I was getting confused and quite sick of going from one to the other."

If consumers need to receive a parcel, they should have clear ways of resolving issues when things don’t go to plan.


Citizens Advice commissioned research agency Verve to carry out video interviews with people who had complained about a parcel delivery. Between February and March 2019, Verve carried out 30 video interviews with people who had made a complaint to a delivery company about a parcel in the last 3 months.

Citizens Advice’s role as consumer watchdog:

Citizens Advice is the official consumer watchdog for the postal sector. Their role is to ensure postal services and post offices meet the needs of consumers in a way that is fair and accessible for all, with particular regard for vulnerable consumers.

If you’ve had an issue with sending or receiving post that you need help to resolve call their consumer helpline on: 03454 04 05 06 or if you want to contact Citizens Advice about your local post office email:


  1., New research reveals UK consumers now prefer to shop online rather than in store, July 2018.
  2. Citizens Advice, Parcel Delivery: Delivery services in the online shopping market, 16 June 2017.
  3. In this research, disabled consumers are defined as anybody whose day-to-day activities are limited by a physical or mental health problem.

Image references

  1. iStock - AndreyPopov
  2. iStock - comzeal
  3. iStock - AaronAmat
  4. iStock - digitalskillet
  5. iStock - gustavofrazao
  6. iStock - monkeybusinessimages
  7. iStock - LightFieldStudios

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