Nearly half of all UK consumers who bought goods from EU-based retailers since the end of the Brexit transition period on 31 December experienced some issues, such as extra paperwork, delays or surprise costs, a new survey by the consumer group found.
Delays were the most common issue experienced by those who ordered products online, but one in 10 people were asked to pay additional handling or delivery fees, according to Which? The average charge was £41 but some people paid up to £300.
Some shoppers also experienced difficulties when returning items to the EU.
Which? found nine in 10 people – out of around 2,000 people who took part in its survey – who returned items between 1 January and 16 February experienced issues such as delays, unexpected paperwork or extra charges.
The group explained that, for many people, import charges and confusing returns policies have made shopping with EU retailers after Brexit much more difficult than it used to be.
It argued that a lack of clear, accessible and well-signposted information on how online shopping has been affected since the end of the Brexit transition period means many new charges and processes have not been communicated clearly and have come as a shock to consumers.
Costs and charges
Which? said the government must work to make the processes for how these costs are charged as simple as possible for both businesses and consumers – and companies must also be up-front about any charges.
In some cases, additional customs duties may apply if an online shopper is buying goods from the EU which originated from further afield, for example, from a seller based in China on an EU platform.
Adding to the confusion, couriers’ policies around charges and how they are applied can also vary.
Which? said there is also a risk that without clarity around the charges consumers should expect when shopping from the EU, people could be misled or scammed into paying extra costs.
It highlighted a recent surge in scam texts purporting to be from the Royal Mail and claiming that a parcel is being held due to an unpaid shipping fee.
“Many consumers across the UK could have been surprised to learn how often they buy from EU-based retailers,” said Adam French, Which? consumer rights expert.
“After Brexit, many were caught off-guard by the new delivery charges and returns policies for parcels from the EU – and left footing unexpected bills.