Supermarkets: the experience of consumers during Covid-19

5 min read
May 25, 2021

Resolver survey reveals positive customer service experiences, but issues with delivery slots, substitutions and coping with coronavirus rules

Research by Resolver reveals that a fifth of in-store supermarket shoppers felt their store had coped poorly or terribly with social distancing and face mask enforcement. 

Meanwhile nine in 10 online customers had received a substitution in the past year. 

But while there were concerns about how well coronavirus rules had been handled, the criticism from our survey respondents was largely aimed at fellow shoppers, rather than supermarket workers, with alarming reports of aggressive behaviour towards staff and clear attitudes that other customers felt the rules did not apply to them.

Resolver’s survey of almost 2,000 supermarket shoppers found that while experiences were broadly positive, a significant number of customers had faced difficulties shopping for their groceries. Problems included:

  • Two-thirds of respondents had at least had an ‘occasional’ problem finding an available online delivery slot;
  • One in 10 in-store shoppers regularly faced long queues; and 
  • More than a third of in-store customers told us they had had occasional or regular problems with items being out of stock, while this was an issue for 45% of online shoppers. 

Among our respondents, two-thirds had mainly shopped in a store over the past year, while the vast majority of the remaining online shoppers were using home deliveries. 

Which grocery chains were top of the shops for putting things right? Find out now


Shoppers criticise fellow customers for flouting rules

Despite half of our in-store respondents saying that they felt their supermarkets had been ‘good’ or ‘excellent’ at coping with social distancing measures and the enforcement of wearing face masks in the shops, we heard some concerning examples where this had been less positively dealt with.

Almost a fifth said they thought that the enforcement of social distancing measures had been ‘poor’ or ‘terrible’, with this rising to 23% for the rating of how well enforced the wearing of face masks had been.

Our respondents were generally however less critical of supermarket staff over the lack of enforcement, with frustration being directed far more at other members of the general public. We were told about customers that “barge in between you and the produce, so they can get theirs first”, while there was a feeling that some fellow customers “think rules do not apply to them”. 

There was also the opinion among some that people were more complacent during the second wave of the virus compared to the initial lockdown, while some commented that social distancing in queues was well-handled, but “once inside it then seems to be forgotten”. We were also told about a lack of sanitiser equipment in-store and trolleys not being cleaned after use.

While some pointed out that staff didn’t seem interested in trying to enforce the rules, with incidents of people obviously allowed to enter the store without face masks, others alarmingly reported witnessing staff being treated aggressively, and even one report of them being“spat at” when they tried to get customers to comply with the rules.

Delivery issues

Nine in 10 online shoppers had experienced a substitution in their online order – with two-thirds of these telling us this had occurred “a few times” or “regularly” over the past year. Respondents detailed their experience of inappropriate or bizarre items replacing those they had ordered, including customers receiving gluten substitutes when they had ordered gluten free, illogical quantities replacing the amount asked for, and items that bore no resemblance to what was actually ordered. We also heard of items being delivered with short shelf lives or that had expired.

This wasn’t the only delivery issue for many – with a quarter of online shoppers telling us they had regularly had issues with availability for delivery slots, and just over a fifth saying this had been a problem on a few occasions. 

Customer service experience

Three-quarters of those surveyed had had at least one reason to get in touch with their supermarket’s customer service teams. Customers contacted their supermarkets for a range of issues, including:

  • Careless packing of online orders resulting in damaged items;
  • Lack of enforcement of social distancing rules and wearing face masks;
  • Receiving items with a short shelf life or that were already out of date;
  • Continuing issues with lack of stock;
  • Shop aisles blocked due to pallets or cages meaning it was difficult to shop;
  • Missing or incorrect deliveries.

We asked respondents who had a reason to deal with their supermarket’s customer service teams to mark them out of 10. With two-thirds of those for both online and in-store shopping marking 7 or more out of 10, our surveyed shoppers were broadly positive about their experience. We saw examples where refunds were issued without question, efficient handling of complaints and staff that were “very kind” or “stopped what they were doing to go the extra mile”. 

In one case where the wrong item was supplied on a click and collect order, the customer got their money back and was told to keep the substituted item, while Tesco, one of the top performers in our latest research on the best and worst grocery retailers for putting things right, was cited by a customer for always being “ready to help where they can to refund missing items”.

Of the 25% of in-store shoppers and 19% of online customers who had received poor service when dealing with customer teams (rated four out of 10 or below), there were issues with “disinterested’ staff, being “brushed off” and in a number of examples simply difficulty in contacting teams directly (or even finding a phone number or email address), and repeated attempts becoming necessary. 

Some were more concerning, such as a customer being blocked from using the online service after complaining about inappropriate substitutions, while another was told that the lack of social distanced marking in the shop didn’t matter since they were “in the store”. Meanwhile, others could see they were overcharged for orders and had to chase refunds.

However, when asked to describe their overall experience of supermarket shopping over the past year, just over a fifth of both online and in-store customers told us the experience had “greatly improved”, while almost a third told us that it had been “good throughout” with little difference. A higher proportion of online shoppers (22%)  than their in-store counterparts (15%) told us the experience had got slightly or much worse. 

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