Matt Peperell's Blog

Thoughts after a year of online grocery shopping

Written: 14 Dec 2021 (Index by date)

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Last October I started grocery shopping online. This worked very well for around 9 months. Product accuracy was high and it was very easy to request a refund (at point of delivery) for unwanted substitutions or for items extremely close to expiry. But even still, the vast majority of items were in stock and so things were rarely a problem.

But around August of this year, things took a downturn. Since then almost every single order I’ve placed has had items missing due to low stock levels. Almost without exception, these items have all been in the same category: prepared meals. Not the greatest culinary choice, sure, but I value the convenience (and besides, though price is of some concern, I’m not aiming to optimise for cost).

As a result it means I’ve had to make alternative arrangements for 5-ish meals per week. I mind less if this is something I would have eaten in the evening, but when working from home it does have an impact on lunch time arrangements.

I am aware that the orders are picked by hand on the day of delivery and therefore subject to local store stock levels. Furthermore, missing items are refunded. But it’s very poor from a user experience point of view.

Since the pandemic, I have occasionally walked to the supermarket (typically whilst needing to run other errands such as visiting a bank) and have noticed the same items missing from shelves. So to be clear: the items missing from my orders do appear to be due to genuine stock issues. I also understand that it’s an unreasonable expectatio that the pickers go to other stores in order to minimise the number of missing items. But what’s less clear is why this has been the case for almost 4 months, and why this has changed when it was fine before this period.

A little over 10 years ago I worked for an ecommerce company and that had stock-level awareness. It would give warnings when items were low in stock, not merely when the item was completely out. Technically this would be possible because they know what my delviery address is and so can estimate what the local picking store would be. But that said, I don’t know what use it would be to raise a complaint. This isn’t a problem with a specific order; it’s a systemic issue and thus harder to fix but also it seems rather self-centered. The process as a whole seems to work; perhaps it’s just my choice of product. I don’t know how common my usage pattern is.

About a month ago there was an interesting problem that happened one evening when my order was delivered. The crate presented to me contained none of the items I normally ordered; it was someone else’s. The delivery driver was on the verge of re-funding the entire order and in our conversation he made an off-hand comment that he had only 5 orders remaining to deliver. I made the suggetion of checking whether it had been switched with someone else’s. The driver checked the van and found another crate which had the same identifying number. It seems unlikely that crates are numbered on a per-van basis, but with this being the case the chance of the same number being issued and then ending up on the same van, seems very low. But this is what happened, and my items were located. (Presumably the other household, being on of the remaining 5, got their crate which had first been presented to me). So this issue too was solved

My supermarket of choice was Sainsbury’s but I’ve been thinking over recent weeks that I might give a differnt brand a try, to see how it compares with missing items. Do any of you get groceries online reguarly, and if so how common are subsitutions or out-of-stock issues?

Train operating companies typically publish punctuality and reliability figures, as a percentage of on-time or services ran. I wonder what supermarket percentages showing “Orders met without subsitution”, both aggregated (either company wide or perhaps per store) and for me as a user, might be. There’s bound to be a couple of data geeks who read this. Can you think of any other figures that might be interesting, were supermarkets to collect them? (and ideally publish them too)

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