Sausage rolls instead of toilet rolls? Sponge instead of Victoria sponge cake?
These are some of the strangest substitutions shoppers have received when they place their online grocery orders, according to research by consumer group Which? This revealed that two out of five respondents had received unusual substitute items in their supermarket delivery.
One confused customer received cooking oil instead of milk, while another was hoping to eat breaded fish fillets but ended up with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice cream.
Other unexpected items in the packaging section included a box of eggs instead of Cadbury Creme Eggs, while another disappointed shopper had a good excuse not to clean the house after the Domestos cleaning product he ordered was traded for orange squash.
Strange substitutions often occur when supermarket order pickers — people who select items for online orders — receive a computer-generated prompt on their handheld scanner when the customer has selected a product that isn’t available.
These suggestions aren’t always appropriate, so retail workers often have to manually override them, which can be time-consuming when trying to hit tight targets.
“While product substitutions can sometimes be really helpful when shopping online, our research shows they can also be downright ridiculous,” said Ele Clark, retail editor at which?.
Customers can refuse replacement items when their shipment arrives or refuse to receive replacement items, Clark said.
Some of the swapping might be amusing – who wants to DIY with duck paste instead of duct tape? Or eat dog food instead of grissini? But shoppers with dietary needs or food intolerances said it was no laughing matter.
Vegan and vegetarian customers said they were sometimes given meat or dairy instead of plant-based alternatives, while one shopper with a gluten intolerance was not impressed when their gluten-free flour was swapped for regular self-raising.
Discounter Aldi was most likely to offer substitutions for customers who placed click-and-collect orders. Which? found, with nearly half of shoppers (49%) receiving replacement products at their last store.
Customers from all of the UK’s largest supermarkets offering online shopping – including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Ocado – reported receiving replacement products on their recent orders.
Many product substitutions leave shoppers disappointed and forced to make last-minute changes to their dinner plans.
Even so, customers occasionally get lucky. One shopper said he received three £60 bottles of whiskey instead of three of the £25-a-bottle version he had ordered.