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Suppose you order some item online and then you pay a shipping company to deliver the item to your home address. What exactly is the shipping company contractually obligated to do?

In spite of how this process is desribed, the shipping company does not make a promise to actually deliver the package to you. But it was my understanding that they are obligated to make an attempt at delivery. So they have to bring the package to your address and if you are not there this is not their problem and they have fulfilled their part of the deal anyway. You get a note in your mail box and can then pick up the package at a location of their choosing. So far so good.

Recently I had a situation where the package never came near my home address at all. After the announced delivery date the online status of the shipping company changed. The wording was something like 'We planned to deliver the package today but were too busy with other things. So we didn't manage to come by your house. Please pick up the package at the following post office.' No note or similar was in my mail box.

I don't know whether somewhere in the fine print it says that they are allowed to do that. But it seems to me they can't sell a service 'delivery of package to specified address' if this kind of thing is allowed. That looks like writing a contract for some service and then writing in the fine print you might not actually do it. It also seems wide open to large scale abuse by the shipping company (it happened to me only once). Is this legal?

Jurisdiction was Germany.

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    The actual law question perhaps is whether "delivery to the post office instead of the indicated adress" can be legally sufficient to satisfy the contract with the seller of the item. – Peteris Oct 15 '20 at 11:59
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    "it seems to me they can't sell a service 'delivery of package to specified address'" It's not at all obvious that they did sell you this. – Roland Oct 15 '20 at 12:33
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    @Peteris: Yes, that's a key point. I don't know about German law, but in many legal systems, you don't have a contract with the shipping company at all; you have one with the seller of the goods you ordered, and the question is what this contract promised or implied about delivery. If that commitment isn't met, you don't take it up with the shipping company, but with the seller. [...] – Nate Eldredge Oct 15 '20 at 13:58
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    @quarague: To clarify - are you literally saying that you paid the shipping company? Or did you, as is more common, pay a shipping fee to the seller, and then they paid the shipping company? – Nate Eldredge Oct 15 '20 at 17:29
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    I don't think it is relevant for my actual question whether the contract is between the shipping company and me or the seller. The seller also wants to purchase the service 'delivery to a given postal address' and the question is whether a contract clause along the lines 'we may or may not actually do it' is legal. – quarague Oct 16 '20 at 6:33
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Can they have a clause in the fine print that in laymans terms just says 'we might just not fulfill our side of the deal'.

That paraphrase appears to trivialize the actual terms of the contract (of which fine print you mention you don't know in detail).

Germany's Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (BGB) at §262 entitles the shipping company --insofar as obligor-- to a choice of service, provided that the company duly informs the customer, Id. at §263. The latter section of the BGB is not explicit as to whether the obligor's notification ought to happen at the formation of the contract, although I am almost positive that that is so and is premised on the BGB itself.

Since delivery at the post office and delivery at the home address are mutually exclusive (i.e., they preclude each other), by virtue of §262 the company may outline in the contract both alternatives and thereafter decide for one of these unilaterally.

If the company makes its contractual [post office] alternative contingent on "being too busy with other things" and the customer proves that the company opted for post office despite not being that busy, the customer could prevail on grounds that the company contravened Treu und Glauben. See Id. at §162(2).

The "I will mow your lawn" example you outline is not a good analogy. The shipping company may argue that, even if the product is not delivered at customer's home address, the customer still benefited by having to retrieve it from a location --such as a nearby post office-- that is closer from the location where the product was commercialized or manufactured. The customer would prevail only if delivery were at a location which is more inconvenient to him than if he discarded transacting with the shipping company. See Id. at § 226.

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  • I guess the contract will say something like delivery to the specified address or a nearby location like a post office, so legally the shipping company is fine. Whether delivery to a post office is actually more beneficial than no delivery depends on the circumstances. I don't think that can be assumed a priori but if it is not it probably counts as customers fault to not choose a more guaranteed form of delivery. – quarague Oct 16 '20 at 6:38
  • Where does the idea come from, that § 262 BGB is applicable here? A Wahlschuld is no common thing. – K-HB Oct 16 '20 at 12:08
  • @K-HB Given what I mentioned in the 3rd paragraph (and that we don't know the specifics of the OP's contract), I am not sure I understand your question. Could you elaborate? or are you asking about the concept of Wahlschuld? – Iñaki Viggers Oct 16 '20 at 12:19
  • @IñakiViggers Not § 262 BGB "entitles the shipping company" to a Wahlschuld but it is only an interpretation rule for the contract if it includes a Wahlschuld. I don't see a sign, that in the shipping contract a Wahlschuld is agreed on. In addition one has to deal with the question if such a Wahlschuld can be validly agreed in general terms and conditions (AGB) and if there are special laws for postal service. – K-HB Oct 16 '20 at 13:23
  • @K-HB "I don't see a sign, that in the shipping contract a Wahlschuld is agreed on". Neither do I, but the OP asked whether such clause would be permissible in a contract. The latter portion of your comment reflects that also you interpret his question that way. My answer is in the affirmative. I definitely don't have an exhaustive knowledge of German law, but I doubt there is any legislation in Germany (be it postal service laws, consumer protection laws, etc.) prohibiting a clause of that sort for contexts akin to the one the OP formulated. – Iñaki Viggers Oct 16 '20 at 13:43
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Depending on the type of parcel, some types have been suspended from being handled at the door due to Coronavirus in different delivery services.

Most notably "Nachnahme" is currently not done for DHL but is only for international DHL Express shipments. Any other such services are automatically sent to pickup points where one can pay. Similarly, ID parcels are (or were) suspended.

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