The Ghost of Christmas Past came back to haunt online grocery retailers as our shoppers found the season of goodwill had turned to the season of bad mistakes.
While retailers had pulled up their Christmas stockings, with the delivery and stock issues that dogged autumn's online shop much improved, some appeared to turn the festive season on its head, taking more than giving.
This year's Scrooge was Sainsbury. Our shopper was surprised to receive two receipts. One, for Hardys Stamp Shiraz Cabernet at £3.99, was accompanied by a letter saying that, due to early morning deliveries, payment for beers, wines and spirits was taken the previous night. Surprisingly Stella Artois did not appear on this receipt. The main receipt listed everything else, plus the Hardys again.
But Sainsbury was not content with charging for this item twice. The 8-pack of unsmoked back bacon proved especially confusing for the picker. First two packs of smoked bacon were scanned at £2.99 each, then one amount taken off as it was a bogof. The remaining £2.99 was then cancelled. Then another two smoked bacon packs were scanned and the above bogof procedure repeated, leaving £2.99. The picker then realised unsmoked bacon was required and scanned two packs at £2.69, before subtracting one. Hence our shopper was left paying for a pack of smoked which was neither ordered nor delivered.
Having pored over a very confusing receipt, she realised she had been overcharged by £6.98. After a long wait for the helpline, she was told it would be credited immediately. But, on checking a few days later, she found that this £6.98 had in fact been debited, making a total overpayment of £13.96.
At Tesco, which reported weekly December online sales of £10m, there was also some difficulty with numbers. Our shopper was overcharged a total of £4.41 for undelivered Nescafé and Persil.
Asda and Iceland, the worst performers last quarter and last Christmas, showed the most improvement. But Asda still had delivery issues. In the autumn our shopper never received his goods. This time they arrived but the earliest slot was 11 days after ordering.
Our shopper therefore had to order her own Christmas shop from Tesco and await the Asda order on December 27. But when it did arrive she was pleased with the hand-written note apologising for the substitution of 500g pre-pack tomatoes for 454g of loose and 454g of fresh lean mince for the smaller 250g pack. But she questioned whether Asda's 19p Smart Price bread was a true substitution for Hovis.
Our Waitrose shopper found item deletion annoying. You had to press both the remove and confirm buttons. She realised she had not deleted some items when she checked her list at the end. She had to go back in and this meant she lost her delivery slot as she had spent more than the two hours you get to finish before you lose your slot.
She could not order Tetley 40s so substituted 80s as she was prompted to take the order to the obligatory £50 level. But when it came to £51.79, she was still told to order more to reach £50. A customer service adviser sorted it out, but could not explain why it had happened.
Our shoppers ordered on Monday December 16 for delivery between Friday 20 and Sunday 22. At Ocado there was no slot between Friday 20 and Christmas. An adviser suggested our shopper tried later as some people change their minds. A slot had become available by the time she checked out.
The shoppers generally found logging on and site navigation easy. Most put any problems down to equipment or heavy Christmas internet traffic. But it is worth pointing out that our test shoppers are typical consumers and their experiences and equipment are likely to be similar to those of other online shoppers.
For our survey, where only pre-packed is available the pack size nearest the required weight is bought and the full price included. Loose produce is aggregated to give a fairer comparison. Ocado's total price was affected by the substitution of a 1.5kg pack of potatoes at £1.59 and a pack of five bananas (770g) at 69p.
Many retailers seemed to offer the full list, but there were substitutions on delivery. Sainsbury put in two 220g cans of beans for one 420g, but the price (36p) was the same. It substituted premium £1.99 thick pork sausages for the normal 98p pack.
Tesco substituted mild Cheddar for mature and our shopper could only find £1.99 Finest sausages. He was also confused by fresh lean beef mince labelling and ordered the nearest he could find, a 500g Healthy Eating product.