Food for thought: the top and bottom grocery shops

9 min read
May 25, 2021

The top grocery retailers for putting things right – revealed

Many products and services have been essential to us over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. But of those that had to cater for a surge in demand and adapt to new rules at a moment’s notice, our supermarkets and convenience stores were among the most affected. 

Lockdowns at various points throughout the past year meant that many outlets and services were closed, but the situation for our food retailers was the opposite. The changes that had to occur were almost immediate.

We can all remember the early days of lockdown. Panic buying meant low or no stocks of essential items and every day seemed to bring reports of toilet roll and pasta shortages, while thousands took to a life at home with good intentions of home cooking and baking, meaning that flour and eggs were a rare commodity. 

Those wanting to physically shop endured long queues or ensured that if they were vulnerable or one of the nation’s key workers, they could get there in time for their designated slot before the rest of the public were at the doors. Once they were in store, customers and staff were faced with navigating two-metre distance rules alongside probable strangers, and later on, the mandatory wearing of face masks, with many concerned about how compliance was – and still is – a problem. 

Meanwhile, demand for online shopping soared as people wanted to ensure as little travel as possible. This was no more acutely felt than when trying and failing to book a delivery slot for a supermarket, with many not seeing slots available for weeks at a time, or attempting to register for online shopping at either larger chains or smaller food retailers only to be told they were at capacity.

Top of the shops

It’s fair to say that supermarkets, convenience stores and grocery firms have had an incredibly different year to their usual trading environment. As their customers, we’ve also had to get used to a new shopping experience. But how did our shops fare when things went wrong, and did their resolution of issues stand up to the challenge?

Resolver can reveal its top and bottom supermarkets and grocery stores for issue resolution and service, compared to their competitors. Our research of more than 40,500 cases between April 2020 and March 2021 looked at both the online and in-store experiences of customers who shopped at these retailers and had cause to complain. We assessed, in customers’ opinions, how easy it was to contact a store, whether customers would recommend where they shopped and their satisfaction with how issues were resolved.

‘As customers, we had to get used to a new grocery shopping experience’

Alongside our analysis of the complaints we saw over a year of lockdown, Resolver surveyed almost 2,000 consumers about their experience of supermarket shopping. Our results include issues with compliance with social distancing in-store and nine in 10 online shoppers experiencing substitutions in their deliveries, but customer service interactions were broadly positive. Three in 10 shoppers said they had not seen much difference in their experience, and that the experience was ‘good’ throughout. 

Take a look at our table of supermarkets, grocery retailers and convenience store chains to help you choose and use those that topped the ranks, according to their customers, for putting things right when they go wrong. The results may surprise you – and include a mixture of larger chains and smaller outlets that hark back to the days of a personal touch.

Resolver’s top grocery chains for issue resolution

Advocacy Score
Milk & More91
Marks & Spencer40
Waitrose & Partners40

The Resolver Rating is made up of the relative performance rankings for companies across seven metrics. The end scores are a representation of relative performance versus other companies in the table above – in relation to the top score for each metric. 

For grocery shopping the top performing scores or percentages for each of the seven metrics are: 

  • Resolution time: 25.3 days 
  • Response time: 4.4 days
  • Resolution rate: 85.5%
  • Satisfaction: 5.9 / 10
  • Ease: 3.2 / 6 
  • Feeling change: 2.7 / 7
  • Customer Advocacy Score (CAS) 5.8 / 10.

Milk & More is our top performing grocery retailer for issue resolution and service, with an impressive Resolver Rating of 91, compared to others in the table. The artisan grocery delivery service was a big hit with its customers in terms of resolving issues – achieving five stars out of five in six of our seven performance measures, including ease of contact, satisfaction and likelihood to recommend. Milk & More achieved the top scores across the table in the latter two and its revival of the ‘milkman’ method of delivery has become even more popular over the course of the past year.

Closely behind with a Resolver Rating of 89, Costco also scored five stars for all but one of Resolver’s metrics, being the only one of our top three grocery retailers to achieve the full five stars for response time. Meanwhile, Tesco is the only major supermarket chain to achieve Resolver Recognised status, taking third place with a Resolver Rating of 77. The country’s largest supermarket chain joined the two frontrunners in obtaining five stars for most of our measures, but was let down by its response time performance compared against others in the rankings. 

Across our table, the top three brands were the only ones to achieve five stars for satisfaction in issue resolution and the likelihood to recommend. Lower down the table, other five star performances included Aldi for its issue resolution rate, and Spar and Poundland for response and resolution times, though compared relatively to the others in our table, Spar was let down by its performance in most of our other measures.

‘Milk & More achieved the top two scores for customers’ satisfaction and likelihood to recommend’

Bottom performers for grocery shopping

Our bottom three shops are among the country’s largest supermarket chains. 

Sainsbury’s holds up the rear of the table with a Resolver Rating of just 20. Across most of our performance indicators, it scored one-star ratings (out of five), with only response and resolution times being better relative to most of the rest of our roll-call of grocery chains. 

The other supermarket chains making up our bottom three are Ocado and Asda. Like Sainsbury’s, the supermarkets scored just one star for the ease of contacting them, and Ocado joins Sainsbury’s and convenience store chain Spar in a one star rating for customers’ satisfaction with how their complaint had been handled. compared to others in the table. 

Both Ocado and Asda saw a Resolver Rating of just 23. Ocado’s average resolution time was a stronger performer than the other brands at the bottom, while Asda’s customers were more positive at the end of their complaint than the start, compared to those below it in the table. 

What happened to supermarkets in 2020?

Product issues made up a quarter of the complaints to the grocery chains in our rankings. These fell towards the end of 2020 but complaints about product issues rose again to more than 1,000 a month in the first two months this year. There were certainly issues with substituted items and short shelf lives (or out of date food), with more than 2,000 complaints seen over the year for each of these.

Customer service issues were close behind complaints about products, with more than 11,000 complaints, though these can mask many other issues beyond more general complaints about the quality of service. We saw more than 4,000 complaints concerning face masks, which predictably grew over the summer but then spiked again this January, and almost 10,000 concerning queues and social distancing. 

‘Product issues made up more than a quarter of complaints to grocery retailers’

Our additional survey of supermarket shoppers found mainly positive opinions about how supermarkets had been enforcing social distancing and the wearing of face masks, but almost 20% of our respondents felt social distancing measures had been handled poorly, rising to 23% for face mask enforcement. What was more telling is that many of our shoppers directed their frustrations at other members of the general public for not following the rules, rather than at supermarket staff for not enforcing them.

Perhaps unsurprisingly delivery problems made up more than 8,000 complaints, as chains struggled with slot availability in the face of demand, but other issues concerned deliveries being cancelled or arriving late, missing items and issues with driver parking. However, beyond May 2020 these complaints dwindled. Our survey found that of 682 online supermarket shoppers, two-thirds had experienced a problem with delivery slot availability, with a quarter telling us this happened ‘regularly’ over the past year.

Our research

Our scores and the overall Resolver Rating (from 1 to 100) are drawn from the feedback of Resolver users, along with measures used to assess response and resolution times. But every bit of feedback has a story behind it and our data specialists analyse all the information in detail.

Every Resolver user is asked how satisfied they are with a company when a case is closed. Resolver requires a minimum of 30 customer feedback responses for a company for it to be included in our analysis. The Resolver Rating is made up of seven different measures of complaints resolution and service, those that according to our research are important to customers, which each individually assess how a company ranks relative to all other companies in the sector that are represented in our analysis.  To get five stars for one of our measurements, a company has to score within the top 20% of its category relative to the rest of the companies in our analysis.

Here’s our rundown of the seven measurements we use to calculate our Resolver Rating for issue resolution and service:

  • Response Time: the time it takes the company to provide an initial response to the customer (number of days – the lower the better)
  • Resolution Time: the time it takes to resolve the complaint (number of days – the lower the better)
  • Resolution Rate: the percentage of the company’s cases satisfactorily resolved from the consumer’s perspective (percentage of cases resolved)
  • Feeling Change: the change in a customer’s sentiment from the beginning to end of a case (rated from -7 to 7)
  • Ease: how easy it is to complain (rated from 0 to 6)
  • Consumer Advocacy Score (CAS): how likely the customer is to recommend a company (rated from 0 to 10)
  • Satisfaction: how satisfied the customer is with the company and how it has dealt with the complaint (rated from 0 to 10.

Resolver Recognised: Grocery retail

Three grocery retailers – Milk & More, Costco and Tesco – qualify to be Resolver Recognised. 

Resolver Recognised is our scheme to help consumers find and choose companies that perform the best at putting things right when they go wrong, according to their own customers. To qualify to be Resolver Recognised, providers must achieve a Resolver Rating of 70 or more. 

Only those providers identified by their customers as proving time and again that they put things right with quality service can become Resolver Recognised. When you see the Resolver Recognised logo, you can be confident you will receive excellent service should you need to raise an issue.

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