A review of parcel delivery services by the French government consumer watchdog finds widespread abuse of the regulations, with one delivery in three non-compliant.The growth in e-commerce and the opening of parts of the postal market to private enterprise has brought a large number of new entrants into the market, in which La Poste has historically enjoyed a monopoly.
Many of these new operators in France are household names, such as DHL, TNT, Fedex and UPS, but others will be less know to international owners of French property, such as Geodis (Calberson), Mory Ducros, and France Express.
La Poste itself operates under the brand name Geopost, which includes the Chronopost and Exapaq delivery services.
According to a study recently carried out by the official French consumer protection body, the Direction générale de la concurrence, de la consommation et de la répression des fraudes (DGCCRF), the quality of the service provided by these operators leaves room for substantial improvement.
In a survey of 63 operators it highlighted the lack of consumer information on prices and the details of services being offered.
The information provided by the operators was sometimes absent, sometimes partial and sometimes inaccurate. Delivery times were not always advertised or guaranteed.
Some operators did not leave delivery notes to consumers and in other cases the delivery notes were less than complete on the conditions that should have been displayed.
The investigators also identified several types of unfair terms: clauses attributing incorrect jurisdictional competence, clauses stating limitation of liability in case of damage, clauses limiting the right to compensation for late delivery, clauses indicating pricing that did not include customs tariffs, or prices that were denominated in US dollars.
They also found cases of the obligatory use of a premium rate number for tracking an order or for making a complaint.
As a result of this investigation, the DCCRF issued 28 verbal warnings as well as two formal written warnings, although in no case were penalties imposed or legal proceedings commenced.
The study does not name names, a pity, as all are tarnished with the same brush, when in our experience, the services provided by the best of them are very good.
In the absence of detailed information about the offences, it is difficult to judge the level of non-compliance. Few suppliers or transporters yet provide a specific date for delivery, so this could be one of the most frequent shortcomings.
What Does the Law State?
Much of the legal framework is now European wide, as a result of EU regulations some of which are newly operative from 2014. A summary of the main laws, is given below.
The most common problem encountered is late delivery of the goods.
In the case of on-line sales, the law requires that suppliers notify the buyer of the actual date for delivery of the item, which must be within 30 days of the order.
Accordingly, a supplier cannot get away with laconic assurances that delivery will be in ‘three weeks’. They are required to give a precise latest date for delivery, eg 23rd December 2014.
If it is not delivered on the specified date you can cancel the order, but only provided the date of delivery is stated as 'essential' in the contract.
Otherwise, in relation to on-line sales, in the event that delivery does not occur within 7 days you are entitled to cancel your order.
Following the Order
The supplier cannot require use of a premium-rate telephone number to follow orders made or for other enquiries.
Cooling Off Period
You have 14 days from receipt of goods to withdraw from the purchase. No reasons need be given. This right to withdraw does not apply to travel or concert tickets, food and drink, personalised goods or DVDs you have unsealed.
If the supplier advises you they have posted the parcel, but it appears to have gone missing, then this does not exonerate them from their responsibility. The fact that the parcel may have been lost by the delivery company is of no concern of the buyer.
If you complain about non-receipt of the parcel, the supplier is either obliged to prove it has been delivered to you (signed receipt), or to send you replacement goods.
However, they are entitled to make their own enquiries before they do so, a process that may take several weeks. In such circumstances, you may simply want to cancel your order and seek a full refund.
Parcels at La Poste
If the postman advises you that a parcel awaits your collection at the post office (by a notice called an avis de passage), then you have 14 days in which to collect it.
If you fail to collect within this timescale then La Poste will send the parcel back to the supplier. You need to be careful here, as this does not signal non-delivery of the item, and grants you no automatic right to cancel the order. You need to make contact with the supplier, who is likely to impose an additional delivery charge.
If the goods arrive, but have been damaged during transportation, you need to act quickly. You have three days (excluding Sundays and public holidays) in which to send a recorded delivery letter of complaint to the delivery company.
You should also copy the letter into the supplier. You would be well advised to provide photographic supporting evidence.
An even better idea, particularly if you have the slightest doubt, is to examine the parcel before the delivery lorry departs. If it is damaged, then refuse to accept delivery, and indicate your refusal on the delivery note (bon de livraison) that you will be requested to sign.
The supplier has 14 days in which to reimburse you following your claim, after which you can claim interest on the outstanding sum, although you would probably need to go to court to enforce it.
The level of the reimbursement includes the delivery charge paid, but does not include the cost of sending the product back to the seller, which is at the cost of the buyer, but only provided the supplier advised you it would be at your cost at the time of the order.
The seller cannot oblige you to accept a credit for other goods with the company. You have the right to a cash refund.