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Can you top these online grocery substitutions?

Shopping trolley whizzing through supermarket

Online supermarket shopping is the most convenient thing since sliced bread. But that’s until your sliced bread is replaced with a doughnut. Our recent survey highlights some of the strangest substitutions…

Hair-removal cream instead of razor blades, cocktail sausages replaced by oranges, and lemon soap instead of lemonade are among the baffling substitutions that shoppers have received in their online grocery orders.

As part of our survey of more than 7,000 supermarket shoppers, we asked about the strangest substitutions they had ever received. One shopper said:

‘I ordered a frozen turkey crown for two people last Christmas and received a giant whole turkey to feed 17. I couldn’t fit this creature in my freezer and had to get a friend to cut it up with a chainsaw. The delivery driver had gone before I realised what I had been given. This year I chose my turkey in store myself.’

Other bizarre substitutions included eggs instead of margarine, blonde hair products replaced with those for a brunette, and a bunch of tomatoes and a basil plant instead of tomato and basil soup – presumably on the grounds that you could make your own.

Should’ve popped to the shops

The survey also found that Asda was most likely to make substitutions (51% of orders), with Tesco and Waitrose next (39% of orders). Iceland orders were the least likely to contain substitutions, while Waitrose customers were the most satisfied with the substitutions chosen for them.

We wrote about substituting on Which? Convo in 2010 when online supermarket shopping was still quite a fresh idea. Here’s a sample of some of the substitutions you told us about. Sue wrote:

‘I ordered a dark brown hairdye and Tesco substituted ash blonde – (since then I have made full use of the ‘do not substitute’ function).’

While Chris’ shopping contents even got the delivery driver laughing:

‘Christmas. Tesco sent a bag of loose Quorn mince as a substitute for… a Quorn Roast. It was so funny, even the van driver laughed.’

So have you had any peculiar substitutions recently? Do you still find online supermarket shopping convenient or have the substitutions put you off?


After some early mishaps [nothing too silly, just not what we wanted] we don’t allow any substitutions now when doing an on-line Sainsbury’s order. We still sometimes get items in the wrong size but unless it’s fresh food and too much it’s not really a problem. If there are any significant items missing because of our “no substitutes” order we can usually get it quickly when we next go out – it’s rarely critical. Although the driver always asks if everything is alright, it’s impractical to check every item in a big delivery which takes about half an hour to put away. We think it is still best to shop in person for fresh fruit and vegetables – you can work around the use-by dates and adapt menus as you shop. Plus you see things you might not have noticed on line so you can manage your own preferences.

You shouldn’t need to unpack the goods to find out if there are any substitutions. The delivery note lists them and, if you have a decent delivery driver, you will be asked if they are acceptable.

Sorry Tony – I should have made it clear that the Sainsbury’s delivery driver always tells us at the outset about any substitutions and unavailable items and also offers to take back any products that we don’t want. It occasionally happens that an error occurs in our ordering and we end up with the wrong size or too many of certain items: our fault entirely but Sainsbury’s will take them back – it’s just that we don’t discover the errors until we have emptied all the carrier bags and started putting things away! Not really a problem because we can usually manage to consume over-sized or additional food without wastage! The lesson is to really check the sizes [weights/volume/quantity] of the products when selecting them on-line – the pictures often give a misleading impression and are usually out-of-scale with adjacent items.

Finger trouble when setting up an order is always a problem! I have certainly made a hash once or twice with items that can be ordered either by weight or quantity and I forgot to specify which. So far, none of these mistakes have caused any problems.

Had dairy items substituted for specific non-dairy items a few times.

We are currently getting through 2 very large apple scented Fairy washing up liquids. They were substituted for regular Fairy that was on offer. It leaves a funny smell on everything …. very tempted to dump it. Had to go and buy a regular Fairy for quick turnaround items like mugs so not much of a special offer.

Supermarkets still substitute items for you even though you state “no substitutions”.

If there is a smell from washing-up liquid you cannot be rinsing your mugs etc adequately.

My favourite was a Sainsbury’s substitution of AA batteries for AAA. What were they thinking?

You probably left the substitution option open in case there was a different brand available in the event that your first choice was out of stock. I sometimes wonder why they have my e-mail address and telephone number and it doesn’t occur to them to check. Faced with a battery lack I would have asked for a Battenberg cake in lieu.

Janet Haines says:
23 January 2015

My step-daughter ordered a jar of paprika, a jar of smoked paprika and a jar of chilli powder from ASDA. She was sent three jars of paprika. It will take a heck of a long time to get through that lot!

Jane says:
23 January 2015

I recently received a packet of Gillette ladies sensor excel razor blades as a substitution for a pack of Granny Smith apples from Tesco. Fortunately I realised before the delivery driver had left. He was so baffled he took a picture of it and tweeted it

That was a close shave. They must have a very curious and most eccentric algorithm in their software that identifies alternatives for the pickers who assemble the home delivery orders – that one really is the product of a twisted mind. Gives you the pip, doesn’t it?

Suzy Lewis says:
23 January 2015

Asda are by far the worst. I ordered large oranges 3 weeks on the trot and every week they were substituted with large onions. When I complained to the driver he laughed and said ‘that’s nothing, some of our pickers just don’t have a clue. This morning someone had ordered a chicken and it was substituted with a chicken cook in sauce’

A little while ago I got a shopping delivery from ASDA. I’d ordered a bottle of ASDA Lemonade and it was substituted with a PACKET OF SMASH INSTANT MASH! Not even a bottle of something but a packet of instant mash! The driver didn’t even comment when I asked him why. I kept the mash as I had to show everyone that came round! Hilarious!

After being subjected to Christmas music by my local Tesco I was planning to shop online next December. Hopefully these strange substitutions are very much the exception.

Suzybear says:
24 January 2015

Substitutions are not a problem with Sainsburys because they are always put in separate blue bags and give you a list of them so you get to check them before accepting the delivery.

Sometime the substitution is ok and sometimes it’s not. The funniest one I have had is where they sent me a six pack of cheese & onion crisps instead of 500g cheddar cheese! The deliver driver and I had a laugh at that one!

Michelle says:
26 January 2015

Button mushrooms instead of Butternut squash

I can understand how a software programme would offer that alternative; what is unbelievable is that the member of staff doing the picking would go along with it. Their mind was probably lost in the music.

P Livett says:
28 January 2015


I ordered from Tesco online 1Kg of fresh podded garden peas, they sent one pea pod in a bag at 1p cost. I do have a picture of this and the product stored in my freezer.


P Livett

Oh . . . My . . . Pod!

1p for one pea pod!

There’s a certain symmetry about it I suppose.

Paul Stevens says:
4 November 2020

I though I had ordered 1kg of loose brussel sprouts. What was delivered was one sprout in a bag with a label on it 6p!!!

I use the Sainsbury’s delivery service and, before I found out how to decline them, had a few rather incomprehensible substitutions. The saving grace was that the driver always identified them and asked if I would accept. Now I make a point of de-selecting substitutions before placing an order.

Sometimes the substitution can be of benefit! In the rush to order before Christmas I forgot to decline substitutions. One of the items ordered was a gluten-free Christmas pudding (I suffer from Coeliac disease) this had been substituted by a gluten-free iced Christmas cake. Not quite a suitable alternative. I decided to accept it, though, because I had seen that my local Tesco was selling gluten-free Christmas puddings of a more appropriate size. I enjoyed the Sainsbury’s iced cake so much that I ordered more of them!

Perhaps the online supermarkets are not simply incompetent, but making unusual substitutions to encourage us to try products that we don’t normally buy.

This was the only substitution that had any sense about it so I doubt that there are normally any devious attempts to introduce customers to products that we do not normally buy. All the substitutions that were sent to me in the early days were so odd that accepting them was simply not on.

Christians Nannie says:
2 February 2015

My son ordered a box of black drinking straws from Morrisons and received a small bale of hay !

That’s the best one yet. I’ve never heard of black drinking straws. Weird.

I notice a lot of pubs have black straws, loose and unwrapped, in a canister on the bar. Highly unhygienic but, hey!, who cares if it looks the part for smart and sophisticated sipping?

Steve says:
19 February 2015

We ordered two ice cream scoops from Tesco. They delivered a pizza cutter and a tin opener. Thanks!

Now there’s a funny thought of attempting to scoop ice cream with a tin opener…

I can get the “straw / hay” confusion but the “ice cream scoops / pizza cutter & tin opener” substitution is a real baffler. I am convinced these substitution problems occur because there is a cunning little devil in the software which is written in a foreign [or made-up] language and is translating unavailable items into alternatives before the picking list is printed for the staff to follow, which they dilgently do unaware that the customer wanted something completely different. One day, with any luck, our whole lives will be run like this.

Dick Bird says:
3 March 2015

I heard this on the Ken Bruce show on Radio 2 recently: someone rang the show on this very subject – they had ordered a 25 lb bag of King Edward potatoes and they received 25 boxes of King Edward cigars! Hard to top this one.

Mark says:
10 April 2015

I won’t be using ASDA again. I tried 3 times and had issues each time e.g. substituting a cheap American white wine in place of the ordered Australian Shiraz (and I had said NO substitutions on the web site); sending the wine bottles, each in a separate plastic bag i.e. no boxes; maximum order is for 12 bottles in one delivery so you have to make 2 purchases of 12 bottles with 2 separate delivery slots and pay for each delivery slot and then they come on 1 delivery, and each in a plastic bag of course! Crazy and I will continue with Tesco which does it properly.

Tesco regularly deliver my on-line groceries with items missing, because I do not agree to substitutions. The delivery driver yesterday claimed it was my fault they could not supply coffee beans and crisps of a certain type due to my not so agreeing. I wrote to complain, and to give them their due, a customer relations representative telephoned today to apologise. Whilst I accept that perishables with a short shelf life may not always be available when the picker assembles an order, what I do not understand is why stock control cannot be programmed so that at the time of ordering the products selected are earmarked as ‘sold’. We live out in the countryside, so it’s very frustrating not knowing what may be missing until the delivery driver hands over the receipt, especially when the nearest Tesco is some miles away. I’m hardly likely to jump in the car and race off there just for the sake of one or two items, nor do I see why I should go through 30 or 40 individual products on my order to edit in each case what substitutions are allowed in terms of brand, size, volume, flavour or whatever, just to avoid the sort of errors recounted above!!

SammyJ says:
6 February 2016

Before Christmas, I had a pack of fresh pork and chestnut stuffing substituted by Asda with a pack of 4 Pork Pies…. Did make us chuckle, driver happily took it back for us 🙂

Terry Burnett says:
30 January 2021

I recently travelled to Morrisons in Consett for a click and collect transaction. Due to a computer fault I could not announce my arrival. I worried about not being able to receive my shopping but after a while a young lady came out and asked my name and brought the groceries. I was so grateful that I left without checking the goods only to find when I returned home that 2 bottles of Lambrini had been substituted with 2 bottles of fine English Sparkling wine at £20 per bottle, adding £35 to my bill. Despite the absolutely ludicrous nature of the substitution they will not credit me for the excess or exchange the wine because of Covid. I feel powerless in the face of this organisation’s preposterous behaviour and their unwillingness to consider that they may be in the wrong.

I frequently use Morrisons click & collect and the assistant always asks if I am happy with any substitutions, which are shown in an email that usually arrives just before the appointed collection time. If I have not seen them I look at the printed details of my order and decide whether to accept any substitutions before handling anything. Now that I understand the system I can decide whether to accept or reject the substitutions.

Tesco and Waitrose will charge the original price if the substitution is more expensive, which is a nice gesture but obviously adds to prices.

I like Morrisons click & collect because the store I use has excellent availability of slots, often as soon as the next day. If any produce is substandard they will take it back even if handled and bring a replacement.