Sausage rolls instead of toilet rolls? Sponge scourers instead of Victoria sponge cake?
These are some of the strangest substitutions shoppers have received in their online grocery orders, according to research from consumer group Which? that found two in five of those polled had received unusual replacement items in their supermarket delivery.
One bemused customer received cooking oil in place of milk, while another had hoped to dine on breaded fish fillets but ended up with a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food ice-cream.
Other unexpected items in the bagging area 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 they had ordered was exchanged for orange squash.
Strange substitutions often arise when supermarket pickers – people who select items for online orders – receive a computer-generated prompt on their handheld scanner if the customer has chosen a product that is not available.
These suggestions are not always suitable, so the retail worker often has to manually override it, which can be time-consuming when they are trying to meet tight targets.
“While product substitutions in your online shopping can sometimes be genuinely helpful, our research has shown that they can also be downright ridiculous,” said Ele Clark, retail editor at Which?.
Customers can reject substitutions when their delivery arrives or opt out of receiving replacement items, Clark said.
Some of the swaps may be amusing – who wants to do DIY with duck paste instead of duct tape? Or dine on dog food instead of breadsticks? But shoppers with dietary requirements or food intolerances said it was no laughing matter.
Vegan and vegetarian customers said they sometimes received meat or dairy instead of plant-based alternatives, while one shopper with a gluten intolerance was not impressed when their gluten-free flour was exchanged for regular self-raising.
The discount supermarket Aldi was the most likely to provide substitutions to customers placing click-and-collect orders, Which? found, with nearly half of shoppers (49%) receiving replacement products in their most recent shop.
Customers from all of the UK’s largest supermarkets that offer online shopping – including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Asda, Morrisons and Ocado – reported receiving substitutions in their most recent orders.
Many product substitutions leave shoppers disappointed and forced to make last-minute changes to their dinner plans.
Nevertheless, occasionally customers strike lucky. One shopper said they had received three £60 bottles of whisky in place of three of the £25-per-bottle version they had ordered.