Supermarkets fail to provide basic goods to online shoppers

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The Independent Online

Britain's biggest supermarkets give online shoppers poor-quality service that would be unacceptable in their stores, researchers found.

A study by The Grocer, the magazine of the retail trade, found that often, internet supermarket customers were told they could not order basic goods – including bread and baked beans – because they were listed as not in stock. And store delivery vans frequently arrived late or with the wrong order.

Researchers said that, while most sites had overcome technical teething troubles in recent months, "the overall experience was frustrating" for the estimated 600,000 online grocery shoppers in UK.

The study confirms claims from retail analysts that supermarket websites, many of which are unprofitable, fail to meet bricks-and-mortar retail standards as companies race to gain a foothold in a market which last year grew by an estimated 40 per cent.

Researchers tested sites run by Asda, Sainsbury, Waitrose, Iceland and Tesco, which became the first supermarket chain to go online in December 1996. They found Asda was the worst. Most aspects of Asda@tHome were criticised by the magazine which condemned the service was an "absolute nightmare".

Their shopper tried six times to log on to the system, which it rated as "very difficult" to navigate. Then, due to problems with entering a PIN code, the shopper resorted to a customer services helpline. She was told that because of technical difficulties the groceries would not be delivered for 10 days. Online shopping offered by Sainsbury seemed to be typical of present standards. Researchers said that since their last survey at Christmas there had been technical improvements, including fast site access and ordering-time and good site navigation.

But the service, which costs £5, was let down when a van delivered an order for £250 instead of £50. The shopper reported: "The second correct delivery arrived the following day brought by the same driver but a delivery charge had been made.

"A number of substitutions had also been made which were all more expensive. The sausages ordered were unavailable and the substitutions given were available on a buy-one-get-one-free deal but the second pack was not given."

Iceland, which was described in the last survey by The Grocer for being "very difficult" to access and navigate, fared better. Technical improvements were reported although, again, the free service was let down by delivery. The shopper's teenage daughter was babysitting when the deliveryman called and he refused to leave beer and wine. He took the entire order away.

Tesco, which runs the most popular supermarket website, and Waitrose provided the most satisfactory services, until delivery. At Waitrose, more expensive alternatives were provided against the wishes of the shopper. At Tesco, staple items such as baked beans and chicken were listed unavailable although they were seen by the shopper in the store the next day.

Sally Bain, from retail analyst Verdict, said: "There is a long way to go."