/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Supermarket shopping: what gets on your nerves?

supermarket trolley

Long queues, confusing store layouts, ‘unexpected item in the bagging area’… shopping for groceries can really be a chore at times. What irritates you the most about supermarket shopping?

For me, just making sure I’ve bought everything I need and navigating the minefield of special offers means grocery shopping is already taxing enough, even if the shop is relatively deserted. Unfortunately, my local supermarket rarely is…

Most of north London seems to be doing its shopping whenever I go in, and the blocked-up aisles keep you crawling around at a snail’s pace. I’ve now started buying more and more groceries online so that I don’t have to deal with the stress that comes from shopping in a packed-out store. Though you do run the risk of receiving some bizarre substitutions when products are out of stock.

Queues are number one irritation

It seems that what irritates shoppers more than anything is waiting in line for ages. Long queues were named by 35% of shoppers as one of their biggest supermarket bugbears in our survey. One shopper told us:

‘The queues at my local supermarket can sometimes stretch into the aisles, making it difficult to open the freezers.’

While another shopper said:

‘They don’t have a “small basket” check out for a few items, so I go in for a pint of milk and have to queue behind people who have huge trolleys full of food.’

Obstructions in aisles was the next most common irritation, cited by 24% of shoppers. I wonder if that includes the other shoppers in my local store?

There were also a number of people frustrated by not being able to buy what they want – 22% mentioned items on offer being out of stock as a bugbear, while 18% cited shelves that aren’t kept well-stocked.

Have we mentioned your biggest supermarket bugbears? Or is there something else that really gets your goat?


Self-service checkouts and long queues at those that are staffed are the most annoying feature of supermarkets for me.

The lack of unit prices on promotions such as ‘three for the price of two’ is annoying, since that is clearly done to make it difficult for customers to compare products. I can do mental arithmetic and get plenty of practice, but it should be illegal not to give unit prices on special offers.

Multi-buys on fresh produce irritate me and are unhelpful for single people. They encourage waste of food and increase the chance that food could be consumed beyond the ‘use by’ date. Some of the examples are ridiculous – in my local supermarket, cucumbers were 90p each or two for £1. I would like to see multi-buys banned on fresh food.

Being subjected to music, whether piped music or demonstration TVs, stereo systems etc. is a nuisance.

Multi-buys on products with a short life are unfair and wasteful.

Products on offer are a good opportunity to try something different, but you are not going to try 2 or 3 of them.

Fi Brown says:
21 February 2015

I understand that multibuy offers on fresh produce may not be suitable for everyone but then no offers encompass all shoppers. Personally it’s not difficult for my family to use 2 cucumbers a week or more. Granted, there are 4 of us but that’s not an unusual household make up. There’s nothing stopping you only buying what you need and ignoring the multibuy.

Fi, exactly. No one forces you to buy a special offer. If it benefits you, fine. If not, then don’t buy it.

There is going to be increasing pressure on supermarkets to stop multi-buy offers on fresh food: bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26908613

There is no problem with special offers on non-perishable goods.

katbir says:
1 June 2015

That’s fine if there is an alternative. My local Asda has long since stopped selling loose courgettes: they only stock packs of three. No good when I only need one. Also baking apples have gone the same way. When I enquired where the loose ones were I was told that they were only available in multi packs.

Having dietary requirements, my biggest bugbear is supermarkets that stop selling products that we rely on usually made by smallish manufacturers.

I used to drink So-Good Oat Milk. Supermarkets did not keep enough on the shelves so that every time there was a delivery, it went very quickly and the shelf would be empty for the next week so I would buy as much as I could when it was available. Because the supermarkets did not keep their shelves regularly stocked, they claimed they did not sell enough to make it worth them selling it, and So-Good bit the dust in 2011.

As I can’t drink soya, I struggled for a couple of years to find a milk substitute the consistency of semi-skimmed milk until Koko (originally Kara) Coconut milk appeared.

Now it looks like Koko is going down the same road as So-Good.

I have been struggling to buy Koko. Only Tesco and Ocado now stock the fresh version. Alpro (Dean Foods) seem to have muscled their way into the supermarkets and Koko are being pushed out. The Alpro coconut milk is nowhere near as good as Koko.

So please supermarkets, put Fresh Koko Coconut Milk back on the shelves. You have the power to keep a much-needed company in business.

Lady London says:
28 March 2015

Asian food shops may well offer coconut milk in various forms. If you have one accessible to you perhaps you could avoid looking for this product in a supermarket altogether. Are you online? Wondering can it be ordered from a specialist food site or even a major general shopping site (you know which one) online.

Yes – there are plenty of coconut milk products along the Amazon, including KoKo.

SeaQuin says:
19 February 2015

Generally my complaint is shortage of open checkouts. We are expected to use self service tills which are useless when I have a relatively large basket or trolley.

The supermarkets are, in my opinion, deliberately understaffed. Where once the shelves were filled at night now, sometimes, we have wait while the shelves are stocked whilst we wait, during the day !

Self service checkouts, the next one to work for me without some anomaly will be the first.
Lot’s of unmanned normal checkouts when the store is obviously busy.
Confusing and unnecessary price offers. rather than “two for one” just drop the price you’ll sell more probably, certainly to people who didn’t need or want two in the first place.
The term “associates” for people who work there, if you want to make them feel better about their job pay them a decent wage rather than give them a fancy meaningless title.
The screens at the tobacco counter, pointless. I don’t even smoke but the delays these things cause to both those buying tobacco and the people waiting in line behind is totally unnecessary. It achieves nothing.

In the future the demise of, or charging for, the plastic carrier bag will annoy me. They are very useful and have many secondary uses. Never ever has one of mine added to general litter or killed a Dolphin. Rather than getting rid of something useful like a carrier bag do something about all the unnecessary packaging enveloping so much of what we buy, a far more significant problem.

Lessismore says:
21 February 2015

If you are unhappy about the amount of packaging then please complain about it. Not doing so becomes not only a tacit agreement to it but an encouragement for even more. You can always leave the packaging at the till. Remember the Minister told us to do this several years ago? (Google it if you don’t!)

We need to keep the pressure up so that packaging keeps on evolving and improving – well that is if it IS necessary). Alternatively buy naked!

It is now apparent that waste plastics are more of an environmental hazard than previously thought because of microplastic particles: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/microplastic-waste-this-massive-tiny-threat-to-sea-life-is-now-in-every-ocean-9602430.html

Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have introduced charges for single-use plastic bags and some supermarkets in England have, but it may not be long until the other supermarkets do the same.

I hope Lessismore is drawing attention to the benefits of unpackaged produce because the alternative is likely to attract too much attention. 🙂

Constantly moving things round the store. That even affects the stores online packers as they then have to wander the store looking for things.

Multi buys on perishables, just cos the supermarket is trying to shift stock, what’s wrong with 50% off instead of BOGOF etc.

Labels being wrong ( inaccurate unit prices or special offers; 58p each 2 for £1.50 )
No price on the shelf ( missing labels)
The label not matching the product.

Un-engaged staff, you report an issue and its never their job to do anything about it and they won’t find someone who;s job it is to deal with it. aka Jobsworths.

Never enough manned checkouts at busy times.

Self service machines that clearly cold never have been tested prior to release. Unexpected item in bagging area, No fool that’s the shopping I just scanned.

Not sure if this is just my local Tesco , but the fruit and veg is questionable at times. Sometimes already mouldy on the shelf.

Vivid says:
21 February 2015

That’s one of the things I like about Aldi, no BOGOFs.

I must be very lucky with my local Tesco. Most staff are friendly and helpful, there is no unbearable piped “music”, the shop is clean and tidy, plenty of tills open, busy but well managed self-service checkouts, fresh produce, shelves well stocked and so on.

When I go elsewhere my bugbear is music of any sort. This is my bugbear everywhere actually, not just in supermarkets but also in shopping malls, in the breakfast room in hotels, at the restaurant, amplified buskers in the street (nothing wrong with a bagpipe or an acoustic guitar and a human voice), shops with loudspeakers blaring out into the street, etc, etc, etc. There is enough unavoidable noise pollution around as it is without adding to it.

Sally says:
20 February 2015

My biggest gripe is when non UK bornstaff talk to each other in their own language at check-out ignoring the customer.

I would say that where people are born and what language they speak are irrelevant. Rude is rude.

Sally says:
20 February 2015

1 Self service check-outs. We should all boycott them. Don’t young people realise that they are doing their peers out of jobs?
2 Background music. I don’t want this as I shop! People who want it can provide their own.
3 Staff engaging me in conversation. They have obviously been told they must do this and they find it as difficult to ask me as I do to respond. The weather and generalities are fine. I realise that for lots of older people this might be the only human interaction they get all day. But the more specific/personal, “what have you got planned for this afternoon?” are out of bounds. My husband suggested we should say something like, “Well, we are planning to make a p*** movie this afternoon.” The only thing that stops us is our sympathy for the check-out staff who clearly are as reluctant to ask us these questions as we are to answer them…

The contents of your shopping basket and your husbands comment keep flashing through my mind ….

: )

C’mon all, just a reminder, please keep the conversation clean…(However, I did have to laugh Sally!)

Kind of interesting to see the gripes. Because shops have peaks and troughs of customers we deliberately plan to shop on days and times with minimal numbers of people. This solves major potential gripes for us.

Also if you have the room bulk buy, boxes of tomato and baked bean cans , get root vegetables that store well, and frozen vegetables. Once a week should be enough for the meat and fruit side. Bread should be from a bakery, or easier still bake your own. In both cases slicing and freezing a loaf or two for toast makes life easier.

Knowing how much floor space costs, and how much staff cost I am not totally surprised that supermarkets can get jammed up as the only aim is to make money.

I do agree BOGOFS, MUZAK etc are irritating. Also the slo-mo shopper. The bawling baby etc etc : ) But thats just part of being there.

I’d like to see trolleys equipped with scanners to both check prices and to keep a tally on your purchasing. It can be irritating to have a discount voucher with limited life – say £5 off a £50 spend – only to arrive at the till having spent £49.98.

I have seen these in some larger Tesco stores, though I have not used one. The idea is that you scan your items as you go along.

If I have a voucher I do a bit of mental arithmetic and add up the prices as I go along. That works fine except with greengrocery items that have to be weighed to find the price.

Just about every full sized Waitrose has had this for years.

That’s a really cool idea, Malcolm! Surely that’d be a hefty investment for the supermarkets, though?

A bit tongue in cheek Andrew – although Waitrose do it if you enroll to speed you through the checkout.

Hi Malcolm, apologies – my comment wasn’t supposed to sound ironic. I’ve not seen this feature in Waitrose before…our local isn’t that big.

Andrew – ooh! No apology necessary at all! I had just shopped and missed out on my voucher by a couple of pounds. Should I grap the nearest stuff to make up the difference? Hold up the queue whilst I shop around? No. life is too short. My job was to keep tally – my mental arithmetic is good but remembering the value of a trolleyful is less easy.

It’s good to see much more response from Which? to these conversations. Please keep it up!

I’m sure I saw a trolley invention in development where you just put the items in your trolley, walk out of the supermarket and it charges you to your card on your way out.

It would probably need a reform of how products are scanned, but that would take the hassle away of using check-outs.

We tried a scanner once. Checkout takes the total of your shopping on the scanner on trust but spotchecks some trolleys.

Having put things in the trolley then put it back on the shelf, and not sure if we had scanned everything, we just put it through the checkout as normal. Our total was less than the checkout total !!!

I worry that we could get accused of stealing if we inadvertently forget to scan something so won’t be using it again.

I think Patrick is referring to the Utopia branch, though I cannot remember which supermarket is running this one.

I think you are referring to the following, the article was on BBC News Wednesday, 24 September, 2003.
Radio Frequency Identification is a means of identifying goods – or people – that will make the barcode look as dated as a brown paper label on a piece of string.

RFID is a chip, the size of a grain of sand, which emits a radio signal.

Each chip is unique so any item that’s tagged with it can then be tracked individually, all the time and almost anywhere.

Where barcodes only identify a type of good, for example a particular brand of biscuits, RFID identifies every single pack, each of which, in a warehouse or shop, can be tracked simultaneously.
Wal-Mart has told its hundred biggest suppliers that it wants them to put RFID chips on their products by 2005.

And when Wal-Mart tells its suppliers to jump, they jump high and fast. Not this time though.

Jelunga says:
22 March 2015

Tesco also have the “Scan as you shop” feature in our Extra store nearby. Not as good as the Waitrose offer since Waitrose give you THREE nice fibre shopping bags when you register. Tesco give you nothing!

catherine says:
5 May 2015

Great idea! Iv`e thought about this a few times. It`s so embarrassing when you get to the checkout & find that you don`t have enough money for the groceries & have to leave some behind. I`m no good at maths, so i can`t calculate accurately how much I`ll have to pay until the cashier has rung it up.

Lets see…

Staff who decide the moment you move towards a shelf to lift an item is the ideal time to push in front of you to start organising that precise area of shelving.

Customers who use their trolley as a blockade to stop you getting to anything on the shelves near them while they spend 5 minutes studying the contents of a pot of yogurt oblivious to what’s going on around them, though I find a gentle nudge of the trolley with my hip towards them usually has the desired affect. And on a similar note customers who hold their trolley at arms length with one hand across an isle while lifting something from a shelf, I’ve yet to work that one out.

Poor stocking of basics. There is certain days in my local supermarkets that you can be sure that there’ll be no milk or bread on the shelves yet if you ask there’ll be trucks full of them out in the stores.

Being allowed to describe fruit and veg with terms like “sweet and juicy”, when sweet means like sucking a lemon and juicy means something looking like a raisin, or “ready to eat” which seems to mean it’ll be ripe about a week after it’s gone rotten and you’ve binned it.

I hate to say it but people collecting for charity by bagging your shopping. It got so bad in my local Sainsburys at one point that no matter what day of the week you went shopping someone would be there to pack your bags. It wouldn’t have been so bad if they were even capable of packing, because obviously bread, eggs etc goes in the bottom and tins and other heavy items should always be thrown in on top! I started to pay them not to pack, they still insisted on standing getting in the way however. I suspect it may have been a ploy to get me to use self checkout tills, it worked.

A brilliant summary of the little but irksome niggles found every day in the supermarkets and which cumulatively wind us up. We have never scored a full set but it gets close sometimes.

And why do the checkout people look at me pathetically and ask if I will need any help with the packing? I’ve managed to steer a trolley around 3,000 square metres of floorspace, reach to the highest shelves for the more unusual products, lift big packs of botttled water from floor level, and propel 50 kilos of stuff through miles of aisles in a trolley with a wonky wheel. Perhaps after that burst of circuit training I look a bit decrepit – but the last thing I need is a useless pair of hands putting the ice cream on top of the hot chicken. Sainsbury’s is indeed the worst for that – they sometimes, without asking, come at you from both sides on a mission to pack, and what comfortably fitted in the trolley on the way to the checkout now overflows and requires a second trolley to transport it all to the car.

Like John, I get annoyed by packaged fruit that claims to be ripe, but often is not. Various supermarkets make false claims, but Waitrose ‘Perfectly Ripe’ mangos sometimes take more than a week to be fit for fruit salad. Maybe supermarkets assume I want to use their fruit as cannonballs.

catherine says:
5 May 2015

I hate that too, do supermarket staff think that I can`t pack my own shopping? if that was the case, then I wouldn`t be allowed out on my own if I was that incompetent!

Lessismore says:
21 February 2015

I hate self-service checkouts. I see them as a way to avoid having to employ staff.

Lyn Fleet says:
21 February 2015

Self-service checkouts are my main gripe. When badgered by staff to use them I always reply “Thank you but I don’t do self-service”. If they persist I smile, give them my shopping and walk out. By the look on their faces you would think I were being personally insulting and a trouble maker. If we all refused to use them the supermarkets would soon start to listen to us. They will want us to stock the shelves for them next.

Jenny says:
21 February 2015

Almost always unmanned checkouts even at busy times. Badly managed store with many things being out of stock for long periods of time. Irritating when shopping takes just a few minutes and at least twice the time to pay

Shopper says:
21 February 2015

Not getting help to pack bags at checkout. In some countries it is standard practice for the till operator to bag stuff. It is just as easy for them to put an item in a bag on a stand in front of them than onto a bench for the shopper to bag while also getting the money/vouchers/loyalty cards etc sorted out. I feel really embarrassed holding up queues when I am still struggling with bagging after they’ve rung everything up, but this is because they probably put the squashy items through first (bread, soft veg etc) instead of at the end and there is no point in my buying this stuff if it will be a ruined mess by the time I get it home.
I hate self checkout as well as they always seem to need staff intervention.
Paying for trolleys and struggling with baskets when I don’t have the requisite coin to hand.
No complaints about the staff at my local Sainsburys in terms of their general pleasantness and helpful attitudes, just with the systems they are working with.

We usually try tp pre-empt this problem by placing the items on the conveyor in some sort of sensible order for packing in a combination of categories and weight/bulk with the objective of avoiding the “washing-powder-on-top-of-the-tea” scenario. With the older or more mature check-out operators this works but with the fresher till girls and boys it’s a waste of effort. They seem to be drawn by packaging colour or shape rather than contents in running things over the scanner.

The checkout operators in Tesco are far better than me at packing bags sensibly and I have found that placing my bags beside the operator encourages them to ask whether I would like help with packing. I gratefully accept the offer and give thanks for the help before I leave the till.

What really annoys me is when you go to the checkout with a trolley full of shopping and the operator only provides two bags. Clearly my overflowing trolley needs more than two bags. Asking for more, and you just get given another two – overall, I think I had to ask four times last time! I take my own bags (sometimes boxes) now.

“Are you using your own bags? Add the number of bags”, then having to wait for a member of staff to come and confirm. Ridiculous.

Moving items around the store. So you go to the place where you ‘know’ your item is shelved and find a bare space. After searching for a member of staff to ask if there are any more, they point to the end-of-isle special display that has hundreds of the items (on special offer).

Women shoppers who after checking through all their shopping and loading all their bags (slowly) are surprised that they have to find their purse to pay.

Pete Suffolk says:
21 February 2015

Queues at checkouts, promotions chiefly on junk food, and lack of unit pricing. I had a long email conversation with Sainsbury’s about their inconsistent unit pricing but to no avail.

Pete Suffolk says:
21 February 2015

Oh yes, and I really agree with Terfar – women who only START to delve in their bag for their purse after they have packed every last thing. Did they not realise they would have to pay? They could have found that and put it next to the card machine, like I do, ready to use without inconveniencing other customers!

Are you suggesting that women should put their bag or purse next to the card reader, Pete? They might get away with this in some supermarkets but it’s probably not worth the risk.

J.Morris says:
21 February 2015

Over the last four weeks we have made 7 trips to 3 different supermarkets – on checking my paper till receipt, we found we had been overcharged on 5 of those trips at two of the supermarkets – that’s what I don’t like about supermarket shopping!

Sue Platter says:
21 February 2015

If you join Fact Finders, you get a hand scanner to go through all your shopping as you unpack it at home, so you quickly spot any overcharging and you win points – and what do points mean? 😀

The ignorance of shop staff who don’t know what is here on their shelves.

ASDA seem to be overcoming this by instructing their staff to take, rather than send, the shopper to the correct place. Usually they have only a vague idea. ASDA may be better, but that is using customers to train staff:

Manager: Where is the lime and pepper marmalade

Staff: Sorry we don’t stock that but there is a speciality shop on the high street.

OK, where is the lime marmalade?

Third isle, the one labelled jams, on the right, top shelf, near the middle. With loads of other wonderful marmalades. Do you want me to take you?

Simple isn’t it. Its called management and training.

But I guess managers think staff now have University degrees and don’t need to be told. Why else did they go to university? To use their brains to work things out for themselves and do a good job?

No. They went to get away from home, play loud music, and get drunk.That’s why they are now shop assistants.