Published on 11 August 2002 in , , ,

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.

First Online.

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.

The Website.

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


Delivery Day.

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

much appreciated.

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!


  • kim smith says:


  • Bev says:

    Really useful article, thank you. I’ve always wondered what the other big supermarkets were like, but to be honest I’ve been using Ocado for over 2 years and they have been absolutely brilliant each and every time. I’ve had the odd substitution, never a big deal, nothing ever missing, fruit and veg in tip top condition, and no short life foods. In two years I’ve had one late delivery – 9 minutes to be precise, and the very polite driver called us thirty minutes before hand to advise us. Definitely big fans in this house!

  • Catherine Redfern says:

    Hm. I’d like to know what a BARGE POOL [sic] is. Something to do with canal boat storage?

  • Oliver Waite says:

    Just waiting for our first delivery from them. Due between 10pm and 11pm and it is now 11.46. We did have a call at 11.10 to say they would be 30 mins late – but not totally impressed yet… Still I am prepared to try them again as this could be a small lapse.

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    At least they phoned – when I used to use Tesco (admittedly years ago) they’d regularly be an hour late and never even apologise when they did finally turn up!