Living in London and not having a car, doing grocery shopping can be a bit
of a problem.
When I first moved down here I shopped at Ealing’s Safeway until I realised
how awful was and decided not to set foot in there again if possible. I got
fed up with picking up vegetables that were rotting on the shelves, or staff
on the deli handling cheese and meat without changing their gloves. Now if I
go to Safeway, its for pre-packaged goods or milk.
After ditching Safeway I would visit one of the two Sainsburys – traveling
by bus to the one in West Ealing, or by tube to the one in Chiswick. No
problems with the experience shopping there, but when doing a big shop, it was
a real struggle getting everything back to the flat.
One spring day in 2000 at the tube station I was offered free delivery on
my first delivery from Sainsburys Online. I tried it. My browser crashed
several times during the order process – which inspired confidence – and when
the shopping arrived, late, they forgot lots of my ‘essentials’ like milk and
The experience didn’t inspire me and it was some time in 2001 before I
tried Tesco Online. The website was reasonably efficient. Bit slow but a
reasonable experience and the shopping arrived only 5 minutes after my
allotted 2 hour time period.
Since then I used Tesco a lot. Over that time they managed to arrive within
the 2 hour block about once. Checking my shopping list would normally reveal
that several items hadn’t even been put on the receipt, yet alone given to me,
and on odd occasions, some of my food on the had gone awol. The number of
products substituted for others was around 10% – for some reason Tesco’s
Hoover store in London seem incapable of ordering enough of their own brand
extra thick sliced bread.
I wasn’t 100% happy with Tesco, but the staff were generally pleasant and
helpful and it was better than trogging down to the local Sainsburys. Having
it delivered meant I could also stock up more on bulk purchases, bigger
packages and more special offers. Carrying home a 3 litre bottle of orange
juice or three lots of 9 loo rolls was not a nice experience. Even the
£5 delivery charge was recouped by the lower costs of 2kg bags of pasta
and so on.
Back to Sainsburys.
Having found Tesco wanting, I wondered if Sainsburys had improved so I
tried them again in, in March 2001. The website now worked, but the delivery
turned up over half an hour late. The driver apologised and asked if I’d been
told he was going to be late – nope I relied. "Well that was
nice of them," was the response.
Unlike Tesco, everything I had ordered was on the receipt, but all my
frozen food had disappeared. After a lengthy phone call, I finally got a
In the end I went back to Tesco again – the lesser of two evils I decided.
For some reason it was 3 months before I did my next order and in June Tesco’s
delivery was running late, and I got a phone call. Simple things make an
impression. I also, for some reason, got some Uncle Ben’s Chili Sauce for no
apparent reason. Oh and a 2kg block of chedder instead of my requested 200g
I only tend to do an online order every six to eight weeks. With two of us
in the flat we do a huge stock up and then wait for our supplies to dwindle a
bit. It was a few days ago when I read in Media Guardian about Ocado
Ocado are part owned by John Lewis, and use Waitrose as the supplier of
groceries. They only run in London and parts of the South East and apparently
replaced Waitrose’s own delivery service in the area. They’re also quite new,
launching in June 2002.
The Media Guardian article seemed complementary. Their substitution rate
was much lower, I was told, and one customer said that when her delivery was
late, she was given a free bottle of wine. I decided to give them ago.
I found the website fast, responsive and intuitive. No annoying pop-up
windows, it was well thought out and the navigation clean and uncluttered.
Finding your way round Tesco.com can be a bit of a nightmare sometimes.
There were lots of nice touches, like when picking a delivery time – the
website showed you a green van on time slots where they were scheduled to be
in your area, so that you could pick that time slot and save petrol. No doubt
this saves them money, but also helps save the environment!
The range was slightly small – fewer big bulk purchases were available and
not much loose vegetables. I was impressed anyway, so sent them off a quick
email saying so, but that it would be nice to have bigger packs and more loose
veg. Impressively I had a response back within the hour saying they were
looking at expanding the range when they opened their new warehouse. With them
being new I had already forgiven them their current smaller range, so to hear
of their future plans was great. And to hear of them so quickly!
My only problem with the website happened when my internet connection
failed and I couldn’t complete the payment. Not Ocado’s problem and when
everything came back online an hour later I just picked up where I’d left
Yesterday was delivery day. Unlike their rivals, Ocado give you a one hour
time slot. My impressions were instantly favourable when the van actually
turned up within my two hour slot! It was scheduled for 11am-12 and the van
arrived at 11:45. Unlike Tesco and Sainsburys, Ocado got it right straight
The driver was polite, helpful and friendly as he unpacked the bags from
his crates. Unlike Sainsburys and Tesco which use traditional carrier bags,
Ocado use special bags that fit two in a crate. They’re rectangular and hold a
lot so you get fewer bags to dispose of. They’re also quite strong, so I’m
going to be using them for storing my recycling!
There was one substitution and one product unavailable. Both were
toothpaste. Out of 50odd items, Tesco would have normally been around 7 or 8
items. On one occasion, Tesco substituted medium noodles for my thin noodles,
then substituted thick noodles for my ordered medium noodles! Yes I got my
medium noodles, but the way of getting them was rather contrived.
Upon checking off the list, everything on the receipt was delivered, and
there were no strange extras floating around. Upon checking what I had ordered
with the list, every item I had ordered was accounted for. Perfect. I don’t
think that every happened with Tesco or Sainsburys.
Lets face it, costs are important. Waitrose has a rather expensive image,
and Ocado use Waitrose prices, but I found it no more expensive than
Sainsburys and in many instances cheaper. I’m sure some items were more
expensive, but there are always things that are cheaper in some places. I’d
rather pay more for a good shopping experience than pay less for a crap
The delivery charge was great value as well – free for orders over
First impressions of Ocado were very good. They got everything right first
time. Simple things like turning up on time, and giving you everything you
asked for make a real difference. The very small number of substitutions was
The task for Ocado now is to keep me impressed. I’ll be using them again
and we’ll see how they go. They’ve made a good start and they’ve got me on
their side. I do hope they keep me there!