By Richard Lochhead, SNP MSP for Moray

WITH Christmas fast approaching, millions of Scots will be hunting for online bargains as digital connectivity enables us to part with our cash without leaving our homes.

In rural areas in particular online shopping can be a godsend – especially for goods not available on our own doorstep.

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Yet, for far too many Scots, on-line shopping comes with a huge drawback. Many are being ripped off by retailers charging astronomical parcel delivery surcharges.

Customers are scunnered by retailers who deliver free or at low cost elsewhere in the UK but impose hefty surcharges to much of Scotland.

Many cases defy belief. A £50 surcharge for despatching a £5.99 pair of hand towels to Speyside. A £60 surcharge for a small £8.99 item to Fochabers. One constituent told me he could have some spare car parts delivered for free from Germany but a UK retailer wanted a £45 surcharge.

Why is this happening? One key reason is that many Scottish postcodes are not deemed ‘mainland UK’.

The Scottish Highlands for instance are excluded by many retailers from mainland UK rates. Bizarrely, a lady told me a £70 surcharge was slapped on her purchase because her Stonehaven home is in the Highlands. That was news to her.

Citizens Advice Scotland estimates one million Scots are affected.

Not all retailers impose absurd surcharges and many provide free delivery. But many surcharges are unjustifiable costing customers millions of pounds a year.

There’s no consistent approach by retailers. I’ve found different companies charge different delivery rates for different postcodes. Some offer free delivery in some or all postcodes or minimal surcharges. Others apply huge surcharges. There is no rhyme nor reason to how they are calculated.

I have had cases where the surcharges for delivery to Elgin with IV postcode is are greater than for Speyside with AB postcodes. Yet, often the opposite is the case.

Astonishingly, much of mainland Scotland is not classified as ‘mainland UK’ by many retailers. So the banners blazoned across their websites boasting free UK delivery are worthless with customers getting a shock at the end of the ordering process.

There have been attempts to tackle rip off surcharges. In 2014, Scottish Ministers and stakeholders drew up a statement of principles for retailers to follow. Some retailers stick by them. Others ignore them.

The first principle says that online retailers should not discriminate against consumers based on their location. It also states that there should be objective, justifiable criteria for surcharges. Both of these are being flouted by many companies.

Signing up to the principles is voluntary and they are aimed at retailers not couriers.

I held a round table in the Scottish Parliament to discuss what more can be done to tackle this issue.

It’s clear the voluntary approach isn’t working. There’s a strong case for the UK Government to regulate. Meanwhile, the Scottish Government should use its new consumer advocacy and advice powers.

We must push for transparency before orders are placed.If delivery is free to the UK mainland then that must obviously include all the Scottish mainland.

Customers should shop around, and name and shame the worst offenders. Some big retailers like Halfords and LloydsPharmacy have reviewed their charges after I contacted them on behalf of constituents. So I know it can be done.

I’m campaigning to end rip-off delivery surcharges. We need common standards and rules all retailers and courier companies must abide by. I’ve launched a dedicated website where the public can support the campaign. And this week I’m sponsoring a debate in the Scottish Parliament to press for action.