/ Food & Drink, Shopping

Your view: is your supermarket gripe in the top three?

Half price supermarket offer

There are too many gripes to mention from our last supermarket debate, so I’ve summed comments on the three that just keep coming up – self-service check-outs, multi-buys and under-stocked shelves.

Let’s kick start with the obvious one – self service checkouts. If doing a big shop, SeaQuin isn’t too keen on them:

‘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.’

And Lyn is against them altogether:

‘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.’

While Colum just thinks they need a little more work:

‘I am happy to use self-service check-outs and also contactless payment for a faster check-out, but I hate where I get errors which ends up delaying me longer – “unexpected item in bagging area” or flashing red lights is not a good experience. More work is needed to make these solutions a smooth experience.’

Do we really need multi-buys?

Multi-buys were another top grip. Wavechange explained:

‘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.’

Alfa agrees:

‘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.’

But Malcolm R wasn’t in the same camp:

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

Where’s that been moved to now?

Ever found yourself lost, wandering around the supermarket looking for something? Under-stocked supermarket shelves are Tony’s issue:

‘Forever moving items on shelves around. Newsflash: it is bloody annoying!’

This is no more the case than when you cross town for something, as Richard told us:

‘Being told the store you’re in doesn’t stock the item you want but their other store does! Going to the other store purchase item then discover the other item you wanted is only available in the store you first were in’

It’s not all bad

It was good to hear that it’s not all doom and gloom. Sophie is fairly happy with her supermarket:

‘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.’

Are these gripes enough to stop you going to the supermarket? Have you moved to online shopping to avoid self-service checkouts?


We do most of our shopping online at Ocado these days. They have an amazing choice of products far superior to any of the other supermarkets.

I think my biggest gripe is lack of choice in most supermarkets and being forced to buy a supermarkets own brand. Schwarz produce the best herbs but Tesco now only sell their own brand. We bought a Tesco herb recently and it had no smell whatsoever and even less taste.

Supermarkets own brand generally means lower quality. It must be very difficult for the many excellent small food producers to survive. I would like supermarkets own brand products to be restricted to give other producers a chance and the customer more choice.

When shopping in supermarkets in the USA, we always notice there is always a much wider choice of products with fewer own brand products. Take Agave Nectar, in a USA supermarket there were about 20 to choose from, in the UK you are lucky to find just one.

George says:
12 March 2015

I will never use Tesco again – for anything – since I had a row with my local store regarding their selling of Halal products!

Apparently, they didn’t even know that they were selling them (yeah, right!).

Ashley Kingston says:
4 January 2017

whats the problem is selling Halal products ?

Ashley Kingston says:
4 January 2017

[Sorry, Ashley, this comment has been removed as we do not permit promotional content on our community, as stated in our guidelines. https://conversation.which.co.uk/commenting-guidelines/ Thanks, mods.]

George says:
12 March 2015

I have so many ‘gripes’ its unreal – but maybe its an age thing?

Gripe number one: My partner is a florist – a bl**dy good one at that! So why should she have to compete with the local supermarket which only pushes flowers at specific times of the year?

Can supermarkets provide personal wedding/funeral services? No!

Special products for your gran? No!

Supermarkets thrive on us being idle and wanting to save time/effort.

Also, when was the last time you took a busted T.V. back to a supermarket and got it fixed? Correct – never!

In my opinion, NO-ONE should be able to sell a product that they cannot provide service/repair on! And that includes the likes of P.C. World, Curry’s, etc, etc!

I share Sophie’s view [in the intro]. We are fairly satisfied with both the superstores near us – Sainsbury’s for preference, Tesco within walking distance so handy for top-ups. Both stores are well-organised, clean and tidy, and with happy friendly staff and no music. Good range of non-food products in both. I rather like the newer or refurbished Morrisons with the chilled vapour wafting over the fresh vegetables and their range of pseudo market stalls [twenty miles to the nearest unfortunately]. Our overall favourite is Waitrose but at 25 and 30 miles distance they’re too far for weekly shopping but if we’re passing we always get a larder load.

It’s a pity Alfa’s local Tesco doesn’t stock Schwartz herbs, spices and seasonings and I hope that isn’t going to be the norm. Ours has a large Schwartz gantry racked out with all the jars and the fantastic thing is – they’re in alphabetical order. How about that Alfa? Alphabetical Order! [regular readers will have had to endure my frequent whinges about the lack of correct order in product placement, canned fruit and cereals being the main offenders].

We don’t like self-service checkouts so we don’t use them; we don’t think queueing at the staffed checkouts has got any worse.

I personally dislike it intensely when these vast shops reposition stock without putting up a sign to say where it’s gone so you have to go on another hunting expedition, but at least the staff are always helpful when I ask; however, I do wish they would have an index and category locator available for customers to use. The major supermarkets nowadays seem to have dedicated aisles or gondolas for seasonal products which does mean less repositioning overall [I shall be glad when Mothers Day is over – it’s affecting virtually every aisle at the moment].

JMG says:
12 March 2015

Other than a small Tesco convenience store I only have a Co-op. They are forever withdrawing items which I rely on, instead promoting an alternative which I don’t want. When I ask about this I am told they have no say in the matter as head office in Manchester decides what they will stock. I do wonder what the manager’s role is in the running of the store. I am not just speaking for myself, there are many, many of us feel the same way.

Jane Frost says:
14 March 2015

Sainsburys is bizarre online in Wales.

If you fill up your basket, you learn that you are now paying for compulsory plastic bags 40p.

And if you don’t want any plastic bags ….because you care for the environment ….that’s tough.

Sainsburys says it’s because shoppers in Wales have to pay for compulsory bags. Not true.

Shoppers have the choice. And no other supermarket makes you buy wildlife killing bags on a compulsory basis. I’ve tried to explain this to Sainsburys but it fell on deaf ears.

So naturally I’ve just gone to another eco- positive supermarket.

I’d like recycled paper bags in all supermarkets – by law.

It would encourage recycling , support an industry and help wildlife.

Other than that. Sainsburys seems to be going downhill, like Tesco did before.
Stuff missing on the shelves.

Waitrose is still a tad expensive and Lidl’s and Aldi don’t seem sell anything but basics. ie low salty salt. Asda is about the best for prices but it’s hell getting round the isles.

The serve yourself machines are ok but I don’t think I’ve ever got through one without calling the assistant, like a child in class. ‘Please Miss’…so it rather defeats the purpose.

Thanks for telling us about the plastic bag situation in Wales – I was starting to wonder what would happen if [or when, more like] the bag tax was going to be introduced in England because Sainsbury’s seem to be rather wasteful with the bags, sometimes only putting one or two iems in a bag. Our Sainsbury delivery driver always asks if there are any bags to go back, so that would appear to be the way round the problem – they can just take them away again without charging for them. I don’t really see why they can’t put the shopping straight in the totes without plastic bags – everything except bakery, fruit and vegetables are already wrapped, and fruit & veg end up loose in the fridge drawer or the fruit bowl anyway [or they could be put in those small thin bags they have next to the counters: surely they’re not taxed or banned in Wales are they?]. Do the other supermarkets in Wales do the same as Sainsbury’s for home deliveries and charge for plastic bags?

I remember when, around forty years ago, Sainsbury’s provided very sturdy large paper carrier bags that would do several shopping trips before they failed. I still have some. Safeway [now Morrison’s] also used to provide them but American-style, plain, without handles. I still have one of those as well.

Jane – Paper bags are not an environmentally satisfactory solution for various reasons. Have a look at the information available online.

Recycling is better than putting waste into landfill but can hardly be described as environmentally friendly. We need to focus on reusing bags as many times as we can. When they are unfit for further use, that is the time to recycle them and make sure they are not a threat to wildlife.

I have no experience of ordering groceries online but since it is becoming more common, we certainly need to explore ways of minimising waste.

The paper bags Sainsbury’s used to provide could be reused over and over again [so long as they didn’t get wet!] and if the handles came apart I used them as waste paper receptacles which, when full, could go straight in the recyclng bin. In contrast the plastic bags in use today are not reuseable more than once in my experience as they rip and disintegrate too readily and then generally end-up in landfill or incineration [neither being good for the environment]. I used to like reusing the cardboard outers that supermarkets made available at the checkouts for packing away the groceries; these are rarely available nowadays because the cartons used for conveying the products have rip-fronts so they can be stacked straight onto the shelves letting customers take the product out of the box. This makes the boxes useless, and leads to a lot of packaging waste littering the store, but boosts the company’s recycling score I suppose and ticks another box in their annual report under “corporate social and environmental responsibility”.

It is not difficult to install shelving that means that cardboard boxes can be used intact, John. There must be a lot of cardboard to recycle. We could speculate about whether it is better for supermarkets to collect this and have it recycled in bulk or if it is better for customers to use the boxes instead of bags to transport their groceries home. Some people are not very careful at separating their waste and cardboard and paper can easily become contaminated. A better solution might be to have reusable crates that are both durable and will remain reasonably presentable for display purposes.

I’m happy with my Bags for Life from various supermarkets and Tesco Big Green Bags for heavier items. Bags can be damaged by overloading and sharp objects puncturing plastic, but with care they can be used many times.

One of the problems with paper bags is that making them water resistant makes biodegradation very slow.

We always take long-life canvas or jute bags when we go to the supermarket which never seem to wear out; even the plastic bag-for-life type seem to last a very long time; only once have I needed to ask Sainsbury’s to replace one f.o.c. in accordance with their promise [which they did without demur].

This trend for stacking the products on the shelves inside the outer carton with the perforated front panel ripped out is quite recent and I believe is due to the competitive pressure from retailers like Aldi and Lidl who have presented their wares this way from the outset. This style has been copied by Tesco and Sainsbury in their Express or Local formats and it has spread to the major stores [not sure about Waitrose].

The retailers have presumably required the manufacturers to repackage products in smaller cartons containing, say, eight or twelve items rather than in the traditional big cases containing up to a gross [depending on size/weight]. At a stroke this has increased the amount of cardboard in the supply chain [offset marginally by the lower grade board used for the smaller cartons]. It is noticeable how many more product lines per metre of shelving you see in a small supermarket compared with a superstore, but it does require continuous replenishment with all the hindrances of large trollies in the aisles and absent products. Store tidiness and product presentation suffer but perhaps that is a price worth paying for greater overall efficiency provided it keeps prices down [which Aldi and Lidl would say it does].

Another innovation that the Germans have brought us is bar-codes on all sides of own-brand [and some other] packaging so that whatever way the item is put on the check-out belt, it can be scanned instantly without the operator having to hunt the bar-code. Saves milliseconds each time I suppose which all add up and cut out one staff position.

I forgot to mention that if the customers can take the boxes there is much more likelihood of them being re-used whereas if the store sends them back to the central warehouse for bulk recycling they never get re-used and there is an additional environmental impact in the transport of the cardboard from the warehouse to the processing plant.

My biggest bugbear in all shops these days – not just supermarkets – is that word they say to you, “hiyalright”. I presume what they actually mean is “how may I help you?”

It drives me insane & I swear it won’t be long before the next assistant who says it to me will get chapter & verse of all the (imaginary) ailments I can think of! Aaaarrgghhh!

Is this what they THINK we want from customer service?