Thousands of people across the country are being penalised by poor parcel delivery services, watchdog Consumer Focus Scotland said today.
Nearly one in three people have difficulties getting their parcel because of inconvenient opening hours at local delivery offices and collection points are too far away for over one in 10 people.
The latest probe uncovered households in rural areas are worst affected with many facing high surcharges for delivery or some companies refusing to deliver.
Consumers indicate they want more choice of collection points including post offices, local shops and some favoured locker banks located at, for example, supermarkets, train stations or petrol stations.
Over half of households say they would like to see nominated times for deliveries and deliveries in the evening.
They also want to be able to use new technologies such as SMART phone applications to be able to track parcels and receive up to the minute updates on delivery times.
The report also points to innovations in other countries such as plans by the Russian postal operator to use radio frequency tags on parcels to help customers track the whereabouts of items.
Trisha McAuley, Deputy Director at Consumer Focus Scotland, said: "Online shopping often offers greater choice, convenience and value for money.
"But the downside, for many people especially in rural areas, is that having found the best deal and ordered online, the parcel then costs a packet or they have trouble receiving it.
"We need 21st Century delivery services for the whole of Scotland with a wider choice of collection points, more convenient opening hours and interactive, up to the minute delivery information to tap into.
"Getting this right would be a win-win for retailers and customers. It definitely beats coming home to a card that says you’ve missed a parcel."
The watchdog is urging all internet retailers and parcel delivery operators to review and revamp their delivery service and offer customers much more flexibility.
To protect consumers in rural areas from being penalised, it is calling on retailers to always offer the choice of delivery by Royal Mail’s standard parcel service, which delivers to all parts of Scotland for a uniform tariff.
Gordon Robb, Trading Standards Manager at The Highland Council said: "We welcome Consumer Focus Scotland’s excellent report which confirms some of our own findings and suspicions about the issue of delivery charges.
"In particular, we would reiterate the importance of businesses complying with distance selling laws and providing full and early delivery information.
"Our recent survey uncovered a wide range of problems and we are in the process of dealing with the non-compliant businesses.
"A number of these online sellers have now made changes and so the situation is improving but much work remains. "We will continue to work with Consumer Focus Scotland and other bodies to ensure that consumers get a fair deal on delivery."
Kyla Brand, Office of Fair Trading (OFT) Representative in Scotland, said: "In our recent call for evidence on price and choice in remote communities, the OFT heard many concerns about deliveries, particularly in the Highlands and Islands.
"Consumers need transparent and timely information about the costs and alternatives for parcel deliveries when they’re ordering online. We welcome the initiatives by Consumer Focus Scotland, Trading Standards and others to tackle these issues and urge all online retailers to ensure they are meeting their legal obligations."
Margaret Lynch, Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Scotland said: "Earlier this year we completed a massive survey on this issue. We asked people all over Scotland to tell us about their experiences of this problem.
"We were completely overwhelmed by the response. Over 2,000 people contacted us – each one telling us of an individual case where they had been over-charged or refused delivery because of their postcode.
"These cases came from all over Scotland, not just the Highlands and Islands. It’s clearly a massive problem.
"But now we have this evidence, we have been working with Consumer Focus Scotland, Trading Standards and others to try and get solutions and persuade some of the offending companies to change their ways.
"We will continue to do that, and to make sure that Scottish consumers get a fair deal from parcel delivery services."
Last year, Royal Mail alone delivered 585 million parcels in the UK and parcel volumes increased by 5% this year.
Delivery issues were estimated to cost retailers £1.1 billion in the last quarter of 2011.
The estimated annual cost to wait at home for deliveries is £177 per person