/ Shopping

Online supermarkets substituting lemons for kitchen cleaner

Yellow kitchen cleaner with lemon

Online supermarket shopping is billed as easy, convenient and lets you avoid the supermarket rabble. And most of the time it’s great… until you’re faced with a substitution that, quite frankly, you couldn’t have made up.

Imagine this – your online grocery shopping turns up and the driver tells you there’s a substitution. You may not be too bothered, providing it’s not that bottle of wine you ordered. But what if you get something completely different?

If you’ve ordered three lemons, you’re going to be a bit bemused if you’re sent three limes. But if lemon-scented Flash cleaner arrived on your door step instead, I suspect that would verge on the laughable. But this actually happened to one Sainsbury’s customer, according to a recent Which? survey.

Crazy supermarket substitutions that defy logic

One quarter of the people we asked had had an unacceptable substitution from an online supermarket in the past two years.

One Tesco shopper told us about the chocolate pudding they received – a bit of a surprise I’m sure since they’d ordered black pudding. And the member who’d ordered icing sugar from Sainsbury’s to make meringues wasn’t expecting the fondant icing they actually got.

Other examples across our survey included a substitution of red wine instead of white wine, a corn on the cob substituted for a ‘vegetable medley’ bag, and dry lasagne sheets in place of a lasagne ready-meal.

But online supermarket shopping isn’t all doom and gloom – I’m generally a fan of shopping online for my groceries. I understand all the arguments about wanting to see and touch certain foods, and there is of course the delivery charge, but for me, it’s generally a stress-free experience.

An option to turn substitutions off

However, while slightly amusing, these substitution examples are hardly logical, are they? I accept that some items are simply out of stock and that you can send the substitution back (all the online supermarkets offer this option) but you’d at least hope that the substitutions would bare some resemblance to your original order.

Plus, it would be nice if all online supermarkets offered the option to turn off substitutions. Not all offer this option, so I think they should all follow Asda’s example – its site gives you the option to tick item by item (not just for your whole order) if you’ll provisionally accept a substitution. This at least goes some way to minimising problems on your must-haves.

What’s your experience of online supermarket shopping. Have you ever had a crazy substitution?


A major reason for me not supermarket shopping on-line is because of the substitution – I am fussy and only want what I order – I’ll sooner go without. My friend often complains about the substitutions.

I used sainsburys online for about a year, and I haven’t used them for the last two years because of this problem. The last time, I ordered a 1.5l bottle of whisky and when the van arrived my order documents said the 1l was on offer and they sent that instead as they were out of the 1.5l. After putting all the rest of my shopping away I re-read my bill and checked on-line only to find out the 1l was not on offer and worked out that the 1l was costing me more in relative terms than the 1.5l. I complained to sainsburys and they said it was MY fault for accepting the substitution. I argued that the order sheet said “special offer”, which would lead most people to believe the item in question is going to be cheaper, not more expensive !. Never used them since and neither has the rest of the family.

Like Richard I’m fussy about what I will accept as a substitute but I do still shop online – just stating that I won’t accept substitutions. I’ve been shopping with Waitrose since they opened the Glasgow store and they tell me that I can add a note to an item I’ll accept a substitute on so for example if I ordered a bunch of fresh coriander I could state that the only acceptable substitute would be fresh coriander in a pot and not coriander seeds or dried.

There’s still something I like about picking up and choosing fresh fruit, vegetables and meat for myself though, so I don’t shop online very often these days, especially as I can shop in store then leave my trolley at the checkout for them to deliver later.


Tesco sent a bag of loose Quorn mince

as a subsitute for……..

A Quorn Roast

It was so bloody funny, even the van driver laughed.

chloe says:
26 August 2011

i read that a woman ordered a box of tampons and in return she received a chocolate twix x ha hilarious

Markhuddersfield says:
6 November 2011

lemon and lime hand soap (christmas special) substituted for 3 chocolate santas. i kid you not, shame you cant get photos on here i have evidence !

sue says:
13 April 2012

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

Sorry I dont understand the mentality of some of your members.
It is very simple – you order something, they do not have it; you have a choice 1) dont get anything or 2)they send you a substitute and you decide if you want it. Dont want it send it back full refund.
surely option 2) is better. Or are some people so lazy they can sort their delivery when it is delivered!!

I don’t think your Option 2 is that simple, Frank. Our deliveries come in dozens of bags with a mixture of contents in each. We cannot empty them and check them against our order fast enough before the driver wants to pack up the bins and trundle off to the next hopeful customer. The reason we have home deliveries is that we are a long way from the store so it’s not just a question of popping round the corner with the substitutes and asking for a refund. Like Sue, our on-line orders no longer allow for any substitutes.

There’s no doubt that some of the substitutions are downright clueless. The pickers should have to report to a supervisor for clearance to send some of the things they pack instead of the ordered items.

In another Conversation, delivery drivers have said how little time they are allowed to make each delivery, so it is not practical for them to wait for the customer to check what they receive against their order. I support John and expect companies to take reasonable care when making substitutions.

Sainsbury, Asda and Waitrose drivers all draw specific attention to the substitutions, now, and allow you to make a decision on the spot.

This Conversation is over six years old and it is hardly surprising that companies recognise the need to find solutions to keep their customers happy if they are going to keep their custom.

Thanks for that information, Ian. I hadn’t realised. We can uncheck the ‘no substitutions’ box now. Frank was right.