We analysed a years worth of tweets aimed at four major supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons) and recorded every tweet where a customer complained about an inappropriate substitute they received.
December is the worst month of the year for supermarket substitutions, accounting for 20% of all complaints. And 11% of total complaints come from just 4 days, the 22nd, 23rd, 24th and 25th of December.
In 2023, the 23rd of December was the worst day to receive a Christmas shop, with deliveries 12 times more likely to contain an unacceptable substitute than the rest of the year.
A Year Of Grocery Substitutions
While December stands out as the worst month for grocery substitutes, the rest of the winter months also see higher complaints compared to the summer months.
January and October account for 10% of complaints each, while August accounts for half of this. Once theory for this is that more people turn to online shopping during the winter, when the weather is colder and they don’t fancy popping to the shops.
Asda and Sainsbury’s are the worst-performing supermarkets in terms of inappropriate substitutions, with Asda accounting for 47% of complaints over the year. This is a significant figure considering Asda only has 14% market share according to Kantar Worldpanel data.
Sainsbury’s accounts for 27% of complaints over the year, Tesco 19%, and Morrisons 7%.
These percentages are stable throughout the year
Tesco’s lack of complaints is partly down to the fact that they often give no substitute instead of a ‘bad’ one. We didn’t include complaints about a lack of substitutes in our dataset.
It should be noted that because the data is based on tweets, it is not complete and the results can only be taken as an indication of performance. There are lots of things that could influence the data, such as how many of a retailers customer base are active on Twitter.
Reasons For Complaints
We also looked at why people were complaining.
57% of the complaints over the year were about substitutes that weren’t similar enough to the ordered item, 29% were due to pack size or pricing issues, and 14% of the complaints were because of dietary issues.
When it comes to pack size issues, Tesco and Asda both state that you won’t be charged extra for a substitute. Sainsbury’s will provide you with a voucher for the extra cost, and Morrisons don’t make any price promises.
But note that these policies don’t cover value for money. If you order a 12-pack of eggs for £4 and these are substituted with a 6-pack of eggs for £3.50 – this isn’t covered by the price promises of any of the retailers, despite the fact that you’re paying 25p more per egg and you have half the amount you wanted.
Here are some examples of unwanted substitutes people complained about over the 2023 festive period.
@Tesco I don’t understand how the substitute system works honestly – how is TWO 400g of Red Leicester a sub for 5 cheese selection? Could have at least given us another type of cheese why 2 blocks of the same cheese and double the weight?! pic.twitter.com/5Pw7MmQNLq— Rachel Hughes (@raychulxh) December 27, 2023
I can always rely on @sainsburys to give me a chuckle with their substitutions. Although, this time I think they're trying to start a trend. Not sure however, how well all butter shortbread subs for Jacobs biscuits for cheese☺️😆— John Sandys (@TheDerbywalk) December 22, 2023
@Morrisons ordered Amazon prime slot for duck pancakes as a Christmas treat, the only item substituted… duck pancakes… the substitute was ice pops wtf we’ll be enjoying our ice pops for Christmas Eve tea 😵💫— Helen Smith (@helensmith305) December 22, 2023
Dear @asda— Emma 💚🤍💜 (@emwithme) December 22, 2023
I know it's Christmas but if I order three selection boxes, then a single bar of chocolate is not a sensible substitution.
Also, I don't care that you've charged me less, 354g of Quality Street in a pouch is not a good sub for an 813g tin.
Complete Data Set
Here are all the tweets we collected, including the ordered item and the item that was delivered instead.
Press & Media Inquiries
For any press and media inquiries, or for access to any specific base data, please get in touch with Veronica at [email protected].
Sources & Methodology
Pantry and Larder searched Twitter (X) for the supermarket name and the word “substitute”, so for example “Asda substitute”. We then manually went through a year’s worth of tweets for four major UK supermarkets (Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, and Morrisons) and recorded any tweet that was a complaint about a substitute the user received.
In total, we recorded 793 complaints from 1st January 2022 to 31th December 2023.
To be counted, the tweet must have included what the customer ordered and what they received instead. General complaints about substitutes or the substitute process weren’t included.
Note, this is just a subset of the complaints a retailer will receive about their substitutes and isn’t a complete dataset.
About Pantry And Larder
This is a Pantry & Larder data study.
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