When online supermarket shopping goes bad – and how to fix it

With Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Amazon all offering same-day grocery delivery, it’s never been easier to get your groceries brought to your door – and there are plenty of offers out there to encourage you to try. But is it worth it when you add in extra charges and ridiculous substitutions?

The pros of online supermarket shopping are pretty obvious. Yes, it’s convenient that I can order from my sofa. Yes, having heavy items brought to my door when I want them is great. And yes, there are no massive queues.

Even better there aren’t any bored toddlers screaming the shop down (though you might have that at home…). It can save you cash too if you stick to a list and avoid impulse “special offers”. Plus there are lots of discounts for new customers. All good reasons to order food online.

However, I’ve mixed feelings about online supermarket shopping. You might have spotted in the news this week that an Asda driver refused to help a heavily pregnant woman carry her shopping up the stairs. This isn’t unusal, and many supermarkets say they won’t carry the items up flights of stairs – some won’t even bring good beyond the front door. In this instance Asda apologised (and offered a bottle of champagne – for a pregnant woman!), but it’s just one example where online shopping supermarket deliveries aren’t as great as they sound.

I think the downsides can often outweigh any of the benefits. Still, even with these in mind, there are solutions.

When online grocery deliveries go bad – and how to fix it

I’ve eight key frustrations as listed below, plus how you can work around them if you feel the same.

1. Delivery charges and minimum orders

I hate to pay extra for any delivery. It’s probably unfair as there will obviously be costs involved, from the picker to the delivery driver – and if we drive to a supermarket instead we’d pay for petrol anyway.

Still it’s annoying that you can pay up to £8 a delivery. And all supermarkets have a minimum order, ranging from £25 to £60, sometimes forcing you to buy more than you actually need.

How to beat it: You can often cut the delivery costs by ordering for weekdays and off-peak times.

Plus by saving up certain items for one big order you might be able to get free delivery (e.g. Sainsbury’s is £100, Waitrose £60).

If you’d prefer to shop online almost every week then a few supermarkets offer Saver Passes, with greatly reduced delivery fees paid up front.

2. Quality of fresh produce & short use by dates

If I can I don’t order easily damaged fruit and veg like salad leaves or berries. These are the products I always inspect in a supermarket, making sure they aren’t too bashed.

But you can’t do that with online orders. Even if ones delivered have survived the trip, they rarely last long.

Often that’s because the use by or best before dates can be very short. It’s not just fruit and veg. I’ve had yoghurt, meat, bread and more which need to be eaten in a day – all things I’d avoid if I picked it myself.

How to beat it: If something arrives that’s not up to scratch, you can send it back when you receive the items.

If you don’t notice until later on, then get on to customer services. I’ve had bad items refunded to my card this way, but you’ll need to do this within a day or two.

3. Substitutions / missing items

It’s rare I get a full order delivered, and often the substitutions are a little odd, or just stupid.

How to beat it: if there are essential ingredients you need on a certain day, try to get that order a few days before. Then you’ve time to pick up any missing items at an actual shop.

Most supermarkets allow you to turn off substitutions, though seeing as you can reject unsuitable ones at the door I generally see what come along – even if I tend to send most back as unsuitable.

4. You can’t pick up reduced bargains

I unashamedly enjoy checking out the reduced aisle at the supermarket (to be honest I’m a little addicted). There can be real bargains found, and with online orders you not only lose out on this, you might even be paying full price for something that should really have a yellow sticker.

How to beat it: Sadly no online supermarket offers reduced stock (though there is Approved Foods – well worth a look).

5. It can take longer to shop

At a supermarket you can whip down an aisle and see everything available in just a few seconds. Online it’s death by scrolling, or just as bad it requires endless clicks of “show me more”.

How to beat it: Don’t browse. Instead just buy what you actually need. And since you’re in your home it’s easy to look in the cupboards and fridge to see what’s missing. It’ll save you money too!

6. Lack of available delivery times

The later you leave your order, the more inconvenient a delivery slot you’ll get. Plus they’re often more expensive at peak times such as weekends, or in the days leading up to Christmas.

How to beat it: Not only are some slots cheaper the further in advance, you can change your order with most supermarkets the day before, if not on the day. So if you think you’ll want a delivery just throw in a few expensive things (e.g. Champagne) to lock in your slot and process the payment. Then edit or cancel it nearer the time.

7. The bags

Please, no more bags…

How to beat it: Some supermarkets will allow bagless deliveries. I’ve started to order without bags from Waitrose and I bring a box to the front door. The delivery driver empties the food into this and I then carry it through to my kitchen. It adds a minute tops to the whole process. Or if you order via Ocado or Morrisons you can give back unwanted bags and get a refund for each one.

8. Late or early deliveries

Finally, despite booking a set slot, it’s rare my orders arrive during that time. More often they are late, or even early. That’s fine if you don’t have plans, but I generally do!

How to beat it: Sadly you’re at the whim of the driver here.

In part two of this series I’ve compared the services you get from the different supermarkets, including last delivery times, new member special offers, and whether the driver will take your order past your front door.

Read more about the different minimum orders, special offers and delivery charges at the different supermarkets in my comparisson article

What are loyalty card points worth?


2 thoughts on “When online supermarket shopping goes bad – and how to fix it

  1. Charlie elbourne October 8, 2018 at 4:18 pm

    Hi andy. Got to draw issue with your article about online shopping.
    You state that none of the supermarkets offer reductions, like you can get in store.
    Morrisons offer 40% off in flashsales and ocado often offer 50%.
    Just go through the checkout process and you will find it.

    1. They’re special offers though, not actual reduced to clear. With reduced to clear you can get 80% off if not more (if you time it right or have a bit of luck)


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