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What’s more important at the supermarket: price or experience?

supermarket shopping

The results of our annual supermarket survey are in and there’s a new top shop in town. But while it scores highly for value for money, it rates lower than others for in-store experience. What’s your preference?

A recent Which? survey of 6,800 people has seen German discounter Aldi knock Waitrose off the top spot as the UK’s favourite supermarket. Waitrose had previously held the crown for three years in a row.

Aldi’s discount rival, Lidl, also ranks highly – it comes in third place, behind runner-up Marks & Spencer.

Waitrose is now in fourth position, while Iceland comes fifth. The ‘Big Four’ supermarkets – Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Sainsbury’s – all sit at the bottom of the table.

How the ratings stack up

In the survey, supermarkets were rated by customers for product range, quality of fresh and own-brand products, store appearance, queuing time and value for money.

Their customer scores, which dictate the rankings, are based on whether customers are happy with their chosen supermarket and whether they would recommend it to a friend.

Aldi beats Waitrose for customer satisfaction, despite lower star ratings for all in-store experiences except for value for money. Lidl also has a very good customer score but does less well in the star ratings breakdown than lower-ranking supermarkets.

It’s in the experience of shopping where Aldi and Lidl score poorly, getting the worst ratings of all for store appearance, queuing time and staff availability.

However, it seems customers are less interested in a pleasant shopping experience than they are in getting value for money – Lidl and Aldi both receive five out of five stars for value for money, while Waitrose scores only two stars.

Service vs value for money

Supermarket shoppers have told us before that customer service is the least important factor when deciding where to shop. Since Lidl and Aldi both score well for quality, customers are willing to put up with longer queues, less available staff and a smaller range of products for good quality at better value.

It’s no surprise, then, that Lidl and Aldi continue to grow in popularity. According to Kantar Worldpanel, Aldi and Lidl’s sales increased by 16.2% and 16.3% respectively from the beginning of November 2017 to the end of January 2018. Last year, Lidl overtook Waitrose to become the fifth largest supermarket in the UK.

Both Aldi and Lidl are both famous for a fast-paced checkout system – it’s rumoured that check-out workers at Aldi have speed targets to meet. They pile stock high but while you can usually find everything you need, layouts can be confusing and you’re unlikely to find many familiar brand names.

Aldi and Lidl are doing a lot of things right, too, though. Their limited-edition stock, such as Aldi’s premium candles or Lidl’s £10 Champagne, regularly sells out in a flash. Plus, the quality of products can be excellent – both Aldi and Lidl have been awarded Which? Best Buys for a variety of things, regularly ranking alongside premium brands.

On the flipside, Waitrose customers tell us they’re very impressed by the staff availability and helpfulness. And customers love the quality of its products, where it picked up the highest marks. It also scored five stars for the appearance of its stores, where Aldi and Lidl score poorly.

It seems when it comes to shopping for groceries, we’re a nation divided. So, what’s most important to you? High-quality produce, a pleasant experience, a great range of items, or great value for money? Or is it a combination of the above, or do you just head to the nearest shop?


Quality first. Fortunately we can pick quieter times to shop.

I had not realised how important a comprehensive and varied selection of products and services was until I moved. I used to have a large Tesco within five minutes by car and that provided ATMs, cheap fuel, fresh fish and bread, an excellent pharmacy and more. Now my main choices are smaller Morrisons and Tesco stores, which between them do not offer the same range, but the Tesco car park is actually a public car park and is very handy for shopping in town. Neither are busy, at least when I’m there. There is a Waitrose about ten miles away and I sometimes pop in there on the way home. It’s a nicer shopping environment, undoubtedly, but at a price, and getting out of the car park is fun at busy times.

There is a new Aldi but it’s not convenient and should never have been built with the exit very close to a roundabout, resulting in queues to leave. It’s still very popular despite having no ATMs, fuel, fresh fish, bakery or pharmacy. I hope that loyalty cards and discount vouchers will be replaced by better prices.

First of all I didn’t get this survey, the only one on food purchasing was where you bought your Xmas food. If I did, my answers would not have put Aldi or Lidl anywhere near top of the results.

How were people selected for this survey?

It seems cheap wins.
How does Aldi with 24 stars get to be the winner beating 2nd M&S (2nd) with 30 stars, Waitrose (3rd) with 30 stars, Tesco (6th) with 28 stars, Sainsbury’s (9th and bottom) with 27 stars, Asda (7th) with 26 stars, Morrisons (8th) with 26 stars, Iceland (5th) with 23 stars, Lidl (3rd) with 22 stars?

From the graph, Aldi, Iceland and Lidl should be the bottom three.

The table legend explains the scores:
“Customer score: This is based on a combination of overall satisfaction and how likely people are to recommend the supermarket to a friend. It doesn’t factor in the individual star ratings.

Read more: https://www.which.co.uk/reviews/supermarkets/article/best-and-worst-supermarkets/supermarkets-compared – Which?”

I don’t think I would ‘recommend’ a supermarket to anyone but I might be able to point out strengths and weaknesses. It would be good to have access to the questions that were asked in the survey.

It just looks a very false graph to me wavechange.

I’d like to see supermarkets also rated on a common selection of their “own brand” products, not (just) the big, expensive, names.

My eldest daughter used Tesco and Waitrose/Ocado but has recently shopped at Aldi and praised their meat, fish and fresh produces. But not their bread, and would not buy their ready meals Good value for money on what she buys. I’d give it a try if it were nearer although we are very happy with the range and quality of our local M&S.

The star ratings and the percentages are measuring different things and will be averages over a large number of supermarkets, sometimes of very different sizes.

I doubt anyone would change their shopping habits from reading this report. It might be useful to focus on one aspect such as quality or price and explore that in depth.

I tend to mix it up. Waitrose/Marks & Spencer for a treat – particularly if I want a ready meal; Lidl for a big shop; Sainsbury’s for everyday items, as there’s a Sainsbury’s Local at the bottom of my road. I’ll also grab things from the local convenience stores nearby. My nearest Lidl recently had a Food Warehouse by Iceland move next door to it. I hadn’t ever thought about going in Iceland before as thought it was purely frozen goods. I was pleasantly surprised by all the fresh goods, particularly the meat and cheese. The frozen meat and fish selection is also good. It is fast becoming a go-to supermarket for me. Not sure if this applies to the smaller Iceland stores, but if it does, I’m not surprised that it scored highly in the survey.

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Many speak very highly of Sainsbury but round here we just have a few Sainsbury’s Local branches with limited stock. While trying to find out where food retailer featured compared with the likes of Currys PC World and Kingisher (B&Q etc) I discovered Sainsbury is a major player: https://www.retaileconomics.co.uk/top10-retailers.asp We could do with a decent sized Sainsbury supermarket but what we are going to get, despite considerable opposition, is a McDonalds drive thru. 🙁

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Where I used to live we had a Sainsbury’s Local but it had a limited stock and there was nowhere to park. We don’t have a Metro. I have visited Sainsbury supermarkets elsewhere when I have been on holiday and was impressed. I commented mainly because I had no idea that the company is such a large player in the retail world.

We do most of our shopping at Ocado but have a Sainsbury’s local close by and a medium sized store not too far away that we do most of our additional shopping and some meat and veg.

Until recently, Sainsbury’s did excellent steak but we have been disappointed with the last couple we have bought, the last ones being quite grisly. They stopped their really good gold label range some time ago, but the others were also quite good. They have now deteriorated which is a shame and we might have to look elsewhere.

I have just remembered that we do have a large Sainsbury but it’s a long way from where I live. At one time I made monthly expeditions there every few weeks, but that was before the invasion of a locally unheard of company called Tesco.

Despite their rapid expansion Aldi and Lidl still have a very low market share of UK food shopping. Most shoppers who favour them have made a deliberate decision – based on economy – to go there and so are likely to be supportive. They are trading range for price and ignoring experience so long as it continues to be tolerated.

For other supermarkets people tend to go to the nearest superstore that is the most convenient for them and need to use a store that has the complete range of the products they need and in various sizes and formats. The discounters’ offerings are quite restrictive by comparison and although the quality of some foods can be high it does not compare with the overall quality, variety and speciality of M&S products which seem to be comprehensively reliable. M&S rarely sell exactly like-for-like items comparable with other retailers offerings – they nearly all have a distinctive difference in the ingredients or production values.

M&S also have a restricted range but provide more enjoyable food with virtually no ‘just about adequate’ items which are the hallmark of shops like Aldi, Lidl, Iceland and Farm Foods. M&S are no good either for a complete shop and I feel the survey should have discriminated between the different categories of shopping. I find that while Coop quality and value is higher than people give them credit for, the somewhat unimaginative nature of their presentation lets them down.

In terms of a ‘complete shop’, my ranking would be Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrison’s, Tesco, Asda. Waitrose is best for ambience and ultimate quality, including more unusual foodstuffs, but Sainsbury’ pips them on price and range of own-label and branded items with an own-label plus two or more brands in all the major categories.

Aldi and Lidl seem to have the same approach, so if we group them together, their combined market share is around 12% https://www.kantarworldpanel.com/en/grocery-market-share/great-britain
This site allows you to explore how market share of supermarkets has changed over recent years.

Although these supermarkets are employing British people and selling British meat I would prefer to buy from supermarkets and energy companies that are owned by foreign countries. It looks as if Tesco might try the same approach: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/feb/11/tesco-planning-discount-chain-to-take-on-aldi-and-lidl

About ten miles away, Aldi set up a new store next to Waitrose and both seem popular. One offers cheaper products and the other has a more comprehensive range. If I lived there I would probably use both.

Wavechange – Did you mean “. . . I would prefer to buy from supermarkets and energy companies that are not owned by foreign countries”?

I wondered the same thing. I don’t think my local Lidl has a single person working there with English as a first language. They are all very pleasant and helpful though.

It’s interesting you say M&S are “no good for a complete shop”. That is true in principle, but we do a virtually complete shop there each week – food, basic toiletries, detergents, wine and cider, sweets, ……… But there are products we need to buy irregularly that they do not stock, including Bovril and ginger marmalade, plus other non-food items. Fortunately (?) we have a Tesco at the other end of the High Street and drop in therer about once a month to top-up,

John – Quite right and I hope the context makes it obvious. Unfortunately there is nothing I can do about correcting the mistake. 🙁

Alfa – I assume that the cost and productivity-driven approach adopted by Aldi and Lidl are uncongenial to the average British supermarket worker who has their own idea of pace and activity. My main complaint with M&S food hall checkout staff is that they seem to think we have all day while they slowly pass the items across the scanner and then try to open up a conversation about the rest of our day. They are also instructed to enquire whether we want an M&S credit card; don’t they realise we’ve heard the spiel a hundred times already and are not interested?

I prefer the brisk efficiency of the Aldi checkouts [not having been in a Lidl for twelve years]. If you organise the purchases on the checkout conveyor belt and then park the trolley alongside the discharge point all the shopping will end up in the trolley with little effort required so you can pay up and be on your way. Aldi print the barcode on all sides of their own label products so it does not matter how you place them on the belt they will scan without manual intervention. Like their near-namesake: vorsprung durch technik.

Having the barcode on all sides is an intelligent solution that could be adopted by all supermarkets. It would mean that each of the original barcodes would have to be covered in the event of a price reduction.

I have bought large objects from DIY shops and the barcode is often in the most inconvenient place for scanning.

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While the hourly rate at shops like Aldi and Lidl is probably above average for the sector [including corner shops and convenience stores] I think the pressure is higher and the overall staffing ratio and longer shifts mean that staff are kept busy continuously for long periods with no slack time. This appeals to some people and provides a higher weekly wage, but it might no be so popular with indigenous employees used to a different regime. Low productivity is the UK’s persistent handicap and if we are to succeed in the global market place after Brexit it must be raised.

Malcolm – The big drawback for us to shopping for more items at M&S is the absence of parking facilities. When in Norwich we can only buy what we can physically carry half a mile to a city centre multi-storey car park, so bottles of wine and boxes of washing powder are out of the question if we have filled a trolley with fresh food, milk and fruit juices. The food hall is also cramped and congested. Half a mile in the other direction is a superb Sainsbury’s with a large car park, big trolleys, wide aisles, and a far better range of products, and while the products might not be quite so sophisticated as in M&S they are of equivalent quality and usually more to our taste – but that’s probably a matter of what we have got used to. And if we are looking for something more exciting then there are two excellent Waitrose stores on the way home.

I feel that with the main weekly shopping it is not one thing or the other [price -v- experience] that counts but the overall package. At the big Tesco not far from where we live there are ancillary services so we can get keys cut, shoes repaired, dry cleaning done, and have bedding and duvets laundered, as well as foreign currency, small electrical appliances, photographic services, pharmacy, lots of household items, more pet foods, and click-&-collect. For others, the bigger traditional supermarkets also offer cigarette and tobacco products, lottery tickets, mobile phone services, a more useful range of trolleys, mobility aids, cafeteria, lavatories, cash machines, and fresh meat, fish and bakery products prepared to personal requirements. I don’t foresee M&S with its mainly city and town centre-based branches matching that.

We should not overlook the role of the ‘pound shops’ which are liked by people on fixed weekly budgets even if the actual unit price is slightly higher than in other stores.

I wonder how productivity in supermarkets can be improved without the danger of increasing workers’ stress in a sector where this is reputed to be a problem already. I wonder if some of the supermarkets have been too accommodating for their customers, with many large supermarkets open very long hours and in some cases 24 hours a day. I don’t know what goes on in store rooms and offices but most of the staff I see on the shop floor look busier than say ten years ago.

Wavechange – with regards to bar codes and price alterations, is it not just a case of altering the software in the scanning and till systems – which can be done from head office – so that the new price will be registered against the existing bar code? I know that in Tescos, Sainsbury’s, etc they over-label the bar code with a yellow or red ‘reduced’ label for sales-floor mark-downs for clearance purposes but I don’t think Aldi and Lidl operate in that way.

We are lucky as the car park is adjacent to M&S. Before the local one opened we used the one in the nearby town that had virtually no car parkig. They had a collect service where you left your shopping with the store and broght your car round to a collection point; they then loaded it for you. It worked very well.

I have not really studied this, John, but in the larger Tesco that I mentioned, the staff clearly had the opportunity to choose the price reduction. I remember a customer waiting for a price to be reduced, looking at the reduced price in disgust and the assistant putting a new sticker with a lower price on top of the previous one. On another occasion in the same shop, an assistant asked a customer ‘what price would you like?’. I’m not suggesting that this is normal practice. I check price reductions because if an original barcode is not obscured you might be charged the full price.

At one time our Waitrose sometimes gave multi-buy discounts even where goods were heavily reduced, so the store actually paid you to take goods away. They finally sorted out this technical glitch but my friend who likes shopping showed me several examples.

If I were on a tight budget, where every penny mattered, then Aldi and Lidl would be my automatic choice in order to live economically. I have always associated M&S with clothing and only visit their food hall when I need something specific, usually as a gift. When the supermarket flowers were uninspiring, M&S supplied me with something I could be happy to present. Their quality standards are better than the usual supermarkets, but the choice is restricted. Buying basic, staple ingredients, cuts costs and then the extra aisles with cards, houseware, and a good range of medicines, hair care and dental products, makes the big supermarket more convenient for shopping. I prefer shelves to bins, where one has to rummage and one gets used to products in a particular store and the layout too. Supermarket shopping is time better spent on other things, so convenience, space to move around, well stocked shelves and a good check-out system all count. When funds are low, I put the “caviar and champagne” (purely illustrative -I hate both) back on the shelf and reach for the baked beans.

Caviar’s rather nice 🙂

Just got the latest Which? magazine with an article entitled Best & Worst Supermarkets 2018

If I thought the table with a link in the intro above gave a false impression, the magazine just confirms my belief.

The table gives no explanation as to how the customer scores are made up and there is Aldi at the top with far too many stars missing to achieve the top ranking.

I have not seen the magazine yet but looking at it online, I see that it lacks the explanation of the table that we have discussed above.

For years a friend who is a keen supermarket shopper has called in once or twice a week to offer me food that has been discounted because it has reached its ‘use by’ date or sometimes is within a day of the date. It used to be mainly from Waitrose but now Marks & Spencer has larger discounts, commonly 20% of the original price. It’s fine for filling up the freezer or eating the following day.

I used to often buy heavily discounted food in a large Tesco store, but where I’m living now both Morrisons and Tesco offer little discounted food or the discounts are small. I sometimes visit the large store and they are still offering substantial discounts. I would love to know why stores differ in this way.

At one time I was wary about discounted fresh food but now I’m happy to buy it.

Do you save money shopping at the cheapes Supermarket when it costs you more in both money and time to go and shop there The same applies when you shop at different places because some items are cheaper there How many places have all the supermarkets sited next to each other ? Do all your supermarket shop at the nearest do not travel round them all looking for the cheapest or the best produce unles you have nothing better to do with your time

Does anyone know why Tesco’s have decided to change their aisle signage? Like most other supermarkets, they made do with signage suspended from the roof, above each aisle, detailing what was stocked on the aisle.

It was a matter of standing back, scanning along the signage to find a particular category and going there.

Literally, overnight, the signage was changed to lower, less detailed signage, at the end of each aisle, making it more difficult to know where a particular item was.

When I asked the Store Manager about it, he was as bemused as I was. He hadn’t been consulted, on the change.

It’s, just a small example of the irritating decisions made by back-office people, who fail to think through the consequences of their “bright idea”.

I’m not surprised Tesco, now, ranks near the bottom of your list.

I had noticed this too. I presume that it is easier and safer to change the signs. My favourite Tesco sign suspended from the roof was ‘Stationary’ in a large Tesco Extra. I would have like to said it had moved but it was just removed.

Must have been the area for stock they couldn’t shift. 😒


I imagine they like you to have to walk all round the store to find the area you need. That way you’ll inevitably, on your travels, pick up items you didn’t realise you needed.

My ranking:
Sainsbury’s, M&S
Iceland, Aldi, Lidl

You are lucky to have all these options available, Alfa.

We only have Sainsbury’s, Tesco, small Waitrose and Lidl within reasonable shopping distance but I have been in the others occasionally.

We can get Asda delivered which I do about once a year when my favourite tipple is on very special offer. I went in an Aldi last year and thought the place was a mess. Lidl are ok for odds and ends but have tried their fruit and veg a few times and it has been tasteless and I don’t go in there much since they started operating a silly parking scheme. Waitrose is too small to be very useful although larger ones are a bit further away. No M&S, Morrisons, Asda, Iceland or Aldi within reasonable distance.

Chris says:
18 February 2018

We eat to be healthy! Cheap price will certainly give you bottom quality products even if they are cleverly made to taste great!… you get what you pay for! Nowadays most of the food is GMO & clone animals; so I buy as much organic & grass fed/outdoor bred as I can to be sure; the best supermarket for that is TESCO!!!… second to none. Also it is excellent for customer service. The other supermarkets are pathetic for organic products… even the expensive ones.