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Asda was the subject of nearly half of the tweets complaining about inappropriate substitutions in online grocery orders over the past year, analysis by Pantry & Larder has revealed. 

The supermarket accounted for 47% of the more than 700 complaints on X (formerly Twitter) about substitutions among the major supermarkets. Sainsbury’s accounted for 28% of total complaints since October last year, Tesco 18%, and Morrisons 7%.

An Asda spokesman said the ”claims are based on a limited social media search and do not represent the experiences of millions of our customers or the service we provide.”

“Our own data shows the vast majority of substitute items are accepted, and overall customer satisfaction is high,” they added.

Across all retailers, 59% of the complaints since October last year were due to substitutions that weren’t similar enough to the ordered item. Among the strangest recorded was a headteacher who received thick bleach from Tesco in place of a four-pack of alcohol-free Birra Moretti (“Seems a bit harsh on my husband,” she tweeted) and an Asda customer who had pigs in blankets delivered in place of lobster (“You CANNOT be serious” they bristled). 

More than a quarter (28%) of the online complaints were due to pack size or pricing issues, and 13% were because of dietary issues. 

Tesco and Asda both state customers won’t be charged extra for a substitute, while Sainsbury’s provides shoppers with a voucher covering any price difference. Morrisons doesn’t make any price promises. In its analysis Pantry & Larder – a recipe and food advice website – noted that the substitution policies do not cover value for money. For example, a 12-pack of eggs for £4 being substituted with a six-pack of eggs for £3.50 – isn’t covered by the price promise, “despite the fact that you’re paying 25p more per egg”. 

The analysis also pointed out that Tesco’s lack of complaints was “partly down to the fact that they often give no substitute instead of a ‘bad’ one”. Complaints about a lack of substitutes were not included in the dataset. Most supermarkets give customers the opportunity to opt out of receiving substitutions, and communicate the substitutions to customers ahead of their delivery time.

Christmas and the new year is the riskiest time to receive an iffy substitution, the data suggests. December last year accounted for 15% of all substitute complaints and January 11%, meaning more than a quarter of complaints were fired off in those two months. 

Based on the total amount of complaints observed so far in December this year, the month is expected to see more than double the number of complaints as December 2022. 

“Grocery substitutes are annoying any day of the year, but over the holiday season, they can be devastating,” said Veronica Fletcher, founder of Pantry & Larder. “Our data shows that it’s a big gamble relying on an online delivery for your Christmas shop, especially if you’re choosing to shop with Asda.”

Last year, complaints across the big four increased by 349% in the week before Christmas. Christmas Eve was the worst day of the year for substitutions, with grocery deliveries nine times more likely to contain an unacceptable substitute than the rest of the year. 

“If there’s an item in your shop you can’t do without, I recommend trying your best to get to the shop to buy it yourself,” Fletcher added. 

A total of 735 complaints were recorded over the period, and to be counted must have included what the customer ordered and what they received instead. 

A shopper survey earlier this year by Which? found Asda shoppers to be most likely to report a substitution in their most recent online or click & collect order, with 62% saying they had. Aldi gave substitutions to 59% of customers in their last order, Sainsbury’s 52% and Morrisons 51%. Shoppers’ ratings of each supermarket on their choice of substitution items saw Waitrose fare best, and Asda, Iceland and Morrisons deemed the worst. 

Separate research from Leeds Business School found on average 30% to 45% of shoppers expressed dissatisfaction with the substitution offered, but were more likely to be comfortable with replacements if they had bought them before. 

“Retailers should always suggest a previously purchased item… because its presence in a consumer’s consideration set implies that she or he perceives the brand as acceptable,” the researchers note. “This information likely is readily accessible to online retailers, so they can achieve high consumer acceptance rates, especially if the substitution item also matches on the most dominant attribute for its category.”