What's the worst that can happen when a good idea goes bad? Serena Cowdy finds out.
One minute, I was waving at the nice Tesco delivery man as he drove away. The next, I was screaming `Noooo!!! There's a whooole baaaag missing! Come baaaaaack!'
But to no avail. The nice man, his van and the rest of my groceries were but a speck on the horizon.
Let me explain. I was organising my friend's hen night dinner. In a couple of hours, ten people would be turning up for a three-course meal. And now, at least two of those courses were shooting along the motorway towards someone else's house.
I called the Tesco helpline number. I was put on hold. The shops were closing, that van was getting further away and I was starting to panic.
Ten minutes later (phone still pressed to my ear) I was squashed up against the glass of Marks & Spencer's closed doors, pleading with them - though the crack - to let me in.
I needed potatoes, salmon and strawberries, and I needed them now. And God Bless M&S - they came up trumps.
That was the last in a series of incidents in which online food shopping and I came to blows.
A couple of months ago, I took part in this podcast, looking at how we can all fight back against rising food prices.
My Foolish colleague Laura Starkey painted a lovely picture of shopping from her sofa, gin and tonic in hand, and convinced me to give it a go.
I've since tried online shopping with both Tesco and Sainsbury's - and I'm now on the verge of washing my hands of the whole business. So how has it all come to this?
Before I began:
- I didn't want to fork out for the delivery charge
- And I was convinced the fruit would be squashed and the eggs would be broken
In fact, I've never yet received goods that have been damaged.
And although I can't always find the online vouchers needed to offset the cost of delivery, I'm basically OK with it.
I'm being provided with a service, which should (theoretically) save me time and effort - so I don't mind paying a bit more.
What's the worst that can happen?
So what am I making such a fuss about? Well, I've come up several problems which dwarf the delivery charge issue. Here are my biggest bugbears:
Delivery screw-ups: I've online grocery shopped five times now, and twice there have been serious screw-ups with the deliveries. Not a very good average.
Both Tesco and Sainsbury's have failed to hand over whole carrier bags of shopping. I don't know how this happens - perhaps the separate orders aren't clearly enough marked in the van?
But whatever the reason, my ten-person dinner was almost a disaster as a result.
Out of stock: Fair enough - some things may be out of stock, just like they are in the supermarket.
But when Tesco informed me that I hadn't been given any sausages `because they didn't have any', I was taken aback. What? No sausages of any kind in the entire warehouse?
Substitutions: When I do get replacement items, they often seem to be much more expensive that the things I asked for. suspicious?
For example, I recently ordered the cheapest `basics' salmon I could find from Sainsbury's. When they didn't have it in stock, they substituted it with `Taste the Difference' salmon steaks, costing nearly twice as much.
Did they really not have any of the middle-of-the-range salmon I see so often in the shop? If they didn't, frankly, they should have.
I know you can hand these things back if you don't want them. And once in a blue moon, it doesn't bother me. But when it happens several times, it begins to get my goat.
Limited selection: Finally, there seem to be a lot of things you can't buy online anyway: Fish from the `fishmongers', meat from the `butchers' and items from the delicatessen all spring to mind.
I'm not sure why this is (supermarkets deliver plenty of other refrigerated food) but it means I inevitably end up nipping into the supermarket to get all the extra bits.
How to guard against disaster
So - if you do decide the pros of online grocery shopping outweigh the cons, what can you do to guard against disaster?
Here's what I've learnt the hard way:
Back-up plan: If at all possible, get your groceries delivered at a time when other shops are open. That way, if the worst happens, you can nip out and get emergency replacements straight away.
Keep them waiting if necessary: When you take delivery of your items, actually read the piece of paper you're given and understand any substitutions or other issues there may be.
Keeping the poor delivery man waiting can be embarrassing, but making sure you're happy with your order avoids far bigger problems later on.
I still can't bring myself to check off every item on the receipt while the poor chap loiters on my doorstep. But I do pick out items at random, to give myself a fighting chance of it all actually being there.
Fight your corner: Finally, do call to complain if there's something wrong. I did get immediate refunds for goods that were never delivered (although I couldn't prove the error) so it's definitely worth doing.
The last time my boyfriend and I unpacked a grocery delivery, I found myself muttering `the suspense is killing me.'.
Would it all be there? Would I find a beetroot cunningly masquerading as a packet of mince? That was the moment I realised the whole process wasn't for me.
When it comes to CDs, books, music and DVDs, I'm an online convert all the way. I like nothing better than settling back with a nice cup of tea and ordering weird and wonderful things off eBay.
And I can see that for some people - like the housebound or parents with small children - online food shopping is probably an absolute Godsend.
As for me? I'm back to braving the ankle-biting toddlers and the trolleys that only turn left.
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