From receiving duck paste instead of duct tape to sausage rolls in place of toilet roll, Which? reveals the weirdest substitutions received by shoppers and the supermarkets most likely to put a replacement in an order.
In a recent survey, the consumer champion asked over 1,300 online supermarket shoppers whether they had received a substitution with their latest grocery order. Which? found that overall, two in five (39%) shoppers had received a replacement item in their most recent shop. Customers were also asked what had been the weirdest substitution they had received over the last 12 months.
Aldi, which has a click and collect online shopping service, was, by a narrow margin, the most likely of the nine online supermarkets to put substitutions in customer orders, with half (49%) of Aldi customers telling Which? they had received a replacement item in their most recent shop.
A contender for the most unusual substitution for an Aldi customer was Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream instead of the breaded fish fillets they had ordered. Another Aldi shopper told Which? they had been confused when they had received cooking oil instead of milk.
Half (48%) of customers who had ordered online at Sainsbury’s (48%) told Which? they had received substitutions in their most recent online shop. One shopper reported ordering Sainsbury’s sponge scourers but instead received a Victoria sponge cake. Another said they had received beef stock instead of brandy butter.
Nearly half (45%) of Asda shoppers received replacement items in their most recent online order. Which? heard from one customer who received sausage rolls instead of toilet rolls. Another said they had a pack of Cadbury Creme Eggs substituted with a ‘box of bog-standard hen’s eggs’.
Around four in 10 (43%) Morrisons shoppers reported getting substitutions in their most recent shopping order, with one customer complaining to Which? that they had received dog food instead of breadsticks, and another having their Domestos cleaning product swapped out for a bottle of orange squash.
A similar proportion of shoppers (41%) with online-only supermarket Ocado reported getting substitutions. In one case, a shopper told Which? they had received a jar of mayonnaise instead of a bar of soap.
Two in five (39%) Tesco shoppers said they had received replacement items in their most recent shop. One shopper told Which? they found duck paste in their shopping in lieu of the duct tape they had ordered.
Which? found that a third of Waitrose customers (36%) had received replacements in their most recent food order, including one baffled shopper who received tampons instead of shaving cream.
Amazon Fresh customers were amongst the least likely to receive a dodgy substitution, with only a quarter (26%) of shoppers affected. One shopper received dark chocolate brunch bars instead of the Dolmio sauce they had ordered.
Those who shopped online at Iceland were the least likely to get a replacement, with only one in five (18%) customers affected on their most recent shop. However, the consumer champion heard from one surprised grandparent who accidentally gave their little ones a spicy snack because they had not realised their plain cheese biscuits had been replaced by a chilli alternative.
Customers with special dietary requirements fared badly when it came to getting substitutions, across all the supermarkets included in the study. Shoppers complained about getting meat or dairy instead of vegetarian or vegan alternatives. One customer said: “As a vegetarian and vegan family, we’ve learnt quite quickly that this isn’t on the radar of the substitution system.”
The same was true for customers with food intolerances. One shopper who had their gluten-free plain flour substituted with regular self-raising flour told Which? “It is an allergen food, not just any food”.
Which? found that not all substitutions were bad, however, and some even left customers better off. One happy Asda shopper told Which? they had received three £60 bottles of whisky to replace three £25 ones that were out of stock.
Ele Clark, Which? Retail Editor, said:
“While product substitutions in your online shopping can sometimes be genuinely helpful, our research has shown that they can also be downright ridiculous.
“You do have the right to reject substitutions at the point of delivery, or you could opt out of receiving substitutions altogether – though this can result in a real headache if the key ingredient for your dinner that night is missing. If you do end up with a substitution that you don’t want, always contact the supermarket and ask for a refund.”
Notes to editors:
In October 2021, Which? surveyed 3,004 members of the UK general public about their supermarket shopping, and 1,304 of the respondents told Which? about online orders including substitutions.
A third of shoppers (31%) told Which? their biggest frustration with online supermarket shopping was items not being available, and items being substituted came second (19%).
Why do shoppers get weird substitutions?
Supermarket pickers – the people who choose online shoppers’ items from supermarket shelves or warehouses – often receive automatic prompts on their handheld scanners about what to choose as a substitution if the item wanted is not available. But sometimes these computer-generated ideas are not suitable and have to be manually overridden – and, as pickers have tight time targets to meet, they sometimes give up on choosing a sensible swap.
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