Food Delivery Has Become the New Normal. Beware of the Terms and Conditions

15 July 2020
CHOICE Issue
525
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food-delivery

With more people having meals at home due to the epidemic, ordering food via food delivery platforms is becoming popular.  Due to a surge in demand, food delivery services can be hit-or-miss. In the past 6 months, the Consumer Council (or the “Council”) has received nearly 170 complaints in relation to food delivery platforms. Most of them were related to “delay in delivery”, "missing orders" or “unsuccessful / failed deliveries”. There are also some complaints concerning “service quality”.  The Council would like to share the following cases with consumers and to highlight the key areas to watch out for.
 
Case 1: Late collection led to cancellation of the order
Miss Cheung ordered 2 dinner meals via Delivery Platform A (“Company A”) and opted for the “self-pickup” service due to the discount being offered. On the way to the restaurant, she received a message from Company A saying that the order was cancelled because she did not pick up the meals within the specified time period. Miss Cheung was surprised because she was only minutes away from the restaurant. When she arrived, the restaurant staff told her that the system had already cancelled her order, and suggested her to liaise with Company A.  Miss Cheung said that she already had paid for the meals ($141) by credit card and that the restaurant had prepared the meals as well, so the cancellation was quite unreasonable given she was only 10 minutes late. Moreover, such cancellation would create unnecessary food wastage. Miss Cheung asked Company A for a refund but was refused. Miss Cheung had thought that the “pickup time” was merely a reference given to the restaurants and customers for food preparation and collection. She did not realize that Company A had such a stringent policy and was not prompted when she placed the order.  Had she known about it she would have spared sufficient time to collect the meals. In the end, she went all the way to the restaurant for nothing and her payment was forfeited.  She thus turned to the Council asking for help in getting a refund. 
 
Follow up actions
In its response to the Consumer Council, Company A made reference to the terms and conditions of its services, which stipulated that customers could choose a pickup time, which would also be displayed in the confirmation emails. Suppliers would then prepare the foods according to the pickup time and keep them in the premises for collection. In order to accommodate for a reasonable delay in the collection process, Company A had agreed with suppliers that they would keep the foods for 20 minutes.  If customers failed to collect the foods within 20 minutes of the pickup time, suppliers would no longer need to keep the foods for the customers and the customers would not get any refund as a result. 
 
According to Company A’s record, the pickup time specified for Miss Cheung´s order was 20:02. Therefore, she should collect her meals before 20:22. However, at 20:33, she still had not collected her meals and thus her order was cancelled without any refund. Company A reminded customers to call the restaurants and make alternative arrangements if they could not collect the foods within the specified timeframe. After relaying Company A’s response, Miss Cheung did not ask the Council for further actions.
 
Case 2: Drinks spilled during delivery and the brand did not match the order
Miss Chan and her colleagues liked a particular brand of handshake drinks and ordered 13 (cups) through Delivery Platform B (“Company B”), and paid $421 by credit card. When the delivery arrived, Miss Chan noticed that the drinks were carried in plastic bags instead of the usual paper bags of Company B, and some drinks were tilted and leaking. When she took out the drinks, she discovered the brand printed on the cups was not the same as the brand she had ordered. Some cups did not even have any brand or logo printed on them. 
 
Miss Chan took some photos of the drinks and made a complaint to Company B. Company B responded saying that the drinks were from a “subsidiary” of the same brand and they shared the same address. Miss Chan was not satisfied as she only wanted that particular brand, and in her order, it was very clear that the drinks were to come from her preferred supplier / brand.  Although the drinks being delivered matched the order in terms of number and flavor, she still found it unacceptable that the brand was different. She was of the view that Company B should update the business and brand information promptly to avoid confusion. Miss Chan asked Company B for a full refund but the company only agreed to a partial refund and offered her some credit points.  Miss Chan refused this offer and lodged a complaint with the Council. 
 
Follow up actions
After the Council’s conciliation, Company B recognized the dissatisfaction caused and agreed to a full refund. The case was resolved satisfactorily.  
 
Case 3: Failed delivery due to improperly filled delivery address
Mr. Chui placed a food order with a restaurant in the vicinity of “Tsuen Wan” via Delivery Platform C (“Company C”). He monitored closely of the delivery status and kept his mobile phone next to him at all time. After 90 minutes, a food delivery staff from Company C called to inform him that the restaurant was located in “Kwai Fong” and that his delivery address in “Tsuen Wan” fell outside of their service area, and therefore his order could not be delivered.  Mr. Chui was frustrated and pointed out that the restaurant was shortlisted (among others) by Company C according to Mr. Chui´s address input and that his order had been successfully processed. The delivery staff still refused to deliver the order and suggested Mr. Chui to contact their customer service department.  Mr. Chui could not find any hotline number and could only seek assistance via the “Help” section on the website. Company C later responded saying that the delivery staff had made several attempts to call Mr. Chui but was not successful, and the staff had waited near the delivery address for 15 minutes before reporting it as a failed delivery.  Mr. Chui thought Company C´s response did not address the issues and explained again the whole sequence of events and stated that he was seeking a refund based on the suggestion of the delivery staff.  However, Company C provided the same response again in a subsequent email and Mr. Chui was furious. Mr. Chui told the Council that his previous experience with Company C was satisfactory but this time he was very disappointed. He stressed that he had been waiting at home all along and only received 1 phone call from the delivery staff saying that his order could not be delivered.  He was frustrated as consumers were usually trapped in a passive position without protection. He also complained about Company C´s failure to provide a hotline number.  
 
Follow up actions:
After further investigation, Company C found that Mr. Chui had only put down his district in the delivery address while the address details (including the real estate name and number) were filled in the “Delivery Notes” field. As such, the company´s delivery staff was not able to work out the right location as per delivery address, and also was not successful in contacting Mr. Chui by phone, thus leading to a failed delivery. Company C reminded customers the importance of filling out the complete address to enable the system to do a more accurate restaurant search and help delivery staff in carrying out timely deliveries.  As to Mr. Chui´s case, in order to maintain a good customer relationship, Company C agreed to make a one-off special arrangement, which involved a full refund ($408) and HK$80 in credit points for future spending.  The case was resolved satisfactorily.
 
Conclusions
Consumers who opt for self-pickup service may think they can pick up their foods from the restaurants any time they want. They may not know that some food delivery platforms may have very stringent time restriction and may cancel their orders if they fail to pick up the foods within the prescribed timeframe.  Therefore, food delivery platforms should highlight this term to their customers in the ordering process so that the customers can decide for the appropriate pickup time. The Council understands that food delivery platforms may have set out this term to protect suppliers from risks arising from food quality issues if the foods are left for too long.  Therefore, customers are required to pick up their foods within a limited timeframe or else their orders will be canceled. 
 
On the other hand, when consumers opt for food delivery service, consumers are only told the estimated delivery time when placing an order. And the delivery time is often affected by different factors such as traffic, manpower, and number of orders.  In 2017, the Council conducted an actual test, and found that some deliveries were delayed for 30 minutes or more. Whether a customer can cancel an order due to delivery delay and get the money will depend on the extent of the delay and other specific circumstances, and there are seldom any clear terms dealing with delivery delay.  It seems that “pickup time” and “delivery time” are treated unequally with different degree of stringency. 
 
In addition, food delivery platforms should regularly review the operating conditions of their food suppliers. If a supplier has changed its name, moved or closed, they should update the information as soon as possible to avoid a situation similar to Case 2.
 
In Case 3, the customer was clearly careless by not filling in the delivery address in the correct field, which led to a failed delivery. However, food delivery platforms should also enhance their systems to enable them to check whether the information entered by customers (especially delivery address and phone number) is complete. If the systems find the information entered incomplete or missing, they should promptly remind the customers and only accept and confirm any order if the information is complete. 
 
Consumer tips
  • Read the terms and conditions carefully and beware of the time limit of self-pickup:  Food delivery platforms have set out terms and conditions regarding both delivery and self-pickup services. Consumers should read them carefully before using any service. Consumers who opt for self-pickup should pay special attention to any time limit for collection. Consumers should consider factors such as distance and traffic conditions before confirming the pickup time to avoid possible cancellation of orders due to delay.  When failing to pick up the foods within the time limit, consumers should notify the restaurant immediately to agree an alternative arrangement. In addition, food delivery platforms and restaurants should also consider the actual situation and allow for certain flexibilities in order to maintain customer relationships.
  • Ensure that the delivery address is correctly filled and keep your eyes on the phone: Many food delivery platforms have GPS tracking. A customer only needs to turn on the location service, and the platform will automatically detect the location and enter the delivery address. Some platforms may pre-set delivery address based on past orders. No matter which type of systems is being used, mistakes may still happen. Therefore, consumers must verify the delivery address before confirming an order, and keep a screenshot of the order. While waiting for the delivery, consumers should keep their eyes on the phones so that they won´t miss any call from the delivery staff.
  • Be environmentally conscious and avoid disposable cutleries: Takeaway food uses a lot of plastic cutleries. Nowadays, many food delivery platforms include an “opt-out” option for cutleries. Whenever possible, consumers should use their own cutleries to reduce waste. At the same time, in order to promote sustainable consumption, food suppliers should consider using cutleries made of recycled materials, or offering discounts to entice customers choosing the “opt-out” option.