Ever tried lining a bin with tinfoil, or making a fresh fruit salad with peach-scented shampoo? Welcome to the world of bizarre supermarket substitutions. Wouldn’t customers be happier with a refund rather than an unsuitable replacement?
Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve never done an online grocery shop. With a Sainsbury’s Local, Tesco Metro and several independent convenience stores at the bottom of my road, not to mention the Waitrose near work, I’ve never felt the need to.
Instead, I’ll go shopping at the weekend for food for my lunches, evening meals and essentials such as milk, and then buy other items as and when they run out throughout the week.
When I do need to get in a larger load – say if I’ve got guests coming or I’ve run down the cupboards like Old Mother Hubbard – I’ll fire up my car and head to the nearest big supermarket.
And now I’ve read the results of our recent survey on bizarre supermarket substitutions delivered to online customers, I’m even less inclined to ever start buying groceries this way.
Regular Which? Conversation community members will know we’ve debated this issue a few times before, the last time in January 2015. On that occasion, a few of you told us of your bizarre supermarket swaps.
Jane told us:
‘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.’
While Christians Nannie said:
‘My son ordered a box of black drinking straws from Morrisons and received a small bale of hay!’
And two years on, it seems the problem persists.
Among the more ‘interesting’ examples in this year’s survey was the shopper who received dog food instead of clothes hangers – and another who got window cleaner instead of mayonnaise. That would make for a fatal substitute in your tuna sandwich.
Vegetarians got a particularly raw deal, with Quorn mince being replaced by beef mince, and veggie sausages being substituted with pork ones.
Some even appeared to be the butt of a bored warehouse worker’s joke, like the person who found their salad replaced with a bar of Dairy Milk or the one who wanted condoms but got a pregnancy test. Not very funny if you’re watching your weight or not planning to have children.
Give us a refund, not a replacement
Now, I’ve already stated that I’m not au fait with online grocery shopping, but I do know that some supermarkets offer a ‘no substitution’ function on their sites and will refund unsuitable replacements within a set time after delivery.
But why don’t they get rid of this function and just all set a rule that if the item you want isn’t available, you never get given a substitution? Rather than delivering something that’s so wildly different (and often wholly unsuitable) from what your ordered, why not credit your account and send apologies instead?
Our analysis shows that online supermarkets that don’t make many substitutions, or stick to sensible ones, generally tend to get a better customer score in our surveys. It’s easy to see why, when you look at these substitution fails. Not only is it frustrating to be sent such unsuitable products, it’s also inconvenient and, at times, insulting.
Do online supermarket substitution fails drive you crazy? What’s been the worst example you’ve had delivered recently? Does it put you off doing your grocery shop online, and would you prefer a system where out-of-stock items never get substituted?