Flash Says…

Online shopping as a disabled person – who to avoid, who to try

Posted on: 2014-02-10

Online shopping can be a lifeline for disabled people. If you’re not able to spend an hour pushing a trolley round the supermarket every week, you may depend upon companies to deliver your groceries. But who does best at catering for disabled customers? And what happens when it goes wrong?

I have mobility difficulties, and fatigue, from my condition. I don’t have the stamina to do a weekly shop in store, let alone push a full trolley or carry more than the lightest items from my car to the kitchen. But arranging for a grocery delivery isn’t simple either – I need to pace my rest and activity cycle around it, as well as my medicine schedule, to ensure I’m awake and as alert as possible in order to handle the delivery. I’ll clear the table, then rest; accept the delivery, then rest; put chilled items away, then rest; put store-cupboard items away, then rest – you get the idea. My entire day is dictated by the delivery. I’m not sure that non-disabled people realise quite how much other people need to plan in order to make the best use of the limited energy or capacities that we get, but it isn’t trivial.

I’ve tried every online supermarket that delivers to my street in east London – Asda, Ocado, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose. Each of them had different issues, but there are only two that I would try again, and one that I would tell every disabled person to avoid – I think you’ll be surprised at the outcome.

The disaster: Waitrose
Where do I begin? The complaint letter for this week’s delivery ran to 5 pages, so this will be a brief summary.

My delivery was due between 2-3pm on Thursday. When it didn’t show up, I phoned to find there were delays of up to 2 hours across London, due to heavy tube-strike traffic. Ok, these things happen – but I had clearly stated on the order that I am disabled and plan my schedule around the delivery. A call would have been nice – and what I would expect from a brand like Waitrose. By 5.30pm there was still no delivery so I rang back, and was told it might come that night (I gave them a deadline of 9pm), or else it might come the next day at 6pm, in which case they’d ring me after 2pm to let me know. Nothing came that night, so at 9pm I ate the only meal I had in the freezer, a chilli. Unfortunately I had oral thrush so it was agony to eat anything at all, let alone spicy food, and I went to bed having eaten maybe half a small meal that day.

On Friday, I was up by 2pm, but heard nothing. At nearly 7pm I chased to find out where my delivery was, and I was told it would come before 9pm. It finally arrived at 9.16pm – more than 30 hours late – by which time I was exhausted, wanted to be in bed, and again hadn’t eaten all day. Then I discovered that an unacceptable substitution for my drinks had been made, and in addition items totalling over £19 were billed but missing. This meant that I would have to get an in-store shop done in any case, since most of my planned meals couldn’t be completed.

At every stage I had to chase Waitrose for information. I always stated that yes, I understand that these things happen, but I need to be kept in the loop so I can schedule my rest. I also told them that I needed food to take my medication, and milk for my meal-replacement breakfast shakes. I explained how critical it was to know what was happening – even if it was just to say “we haven’t forgotten you”. Everyone I spoke to sounded kind, sympathetic, said they completely understood my needs, assured me they were on the case… then didn’t call back as promised, and the delivery didn’t come when they’d said to expect it. They kept me hanging on for two days – and that destroyed me, physically, from exhaustion and pain. I spent most of the weekend in bed recovering.

Although Waitrose volunteered a £20 goodwill voucher, I’m not sure I’d trust them again so it might never get spent. Good communications are crucial when things go wrong, and this was an experience that I never wish to repeat.

Access fail 1: Ocado

I used Ocado for several weeks. Every single week they would phone to see if I could accept the delivery up to an hour early, or sometimes just ring the doorbell to find out. Every single time I told them that I carefully scheduled my wake-up, and my pain medication, so that I would be ready to get out of bed just before the delivery slot, and they must NOT come early and must NOT phone before the delivery slot, that compromising my sleep made me ill. Every single time I was promised this had been noted on my account. Every single time it happened again, and even if I made them wait outside until the booked time, I was now awake and in pain.

They even once pressganged a cleaner of mine into taking a delivery – she told them she couldn’t but they insisted, and she didn’t speak enough English to make it clear that she wasn’t allowed. After all, it’s me paying for it! Of course, that was the week when there were inappropriate substitutions – which my cleaner didn’t know about and couldn’t reject. Eventually I gave up, having given Ocado every chance to stop turning up early.

Access fail 2: Tesco

I thought I’d give Tesco a try. They had an advertising slogan: “We deliver to your door – your fridge door”. That sounded great! What happened when they turned up? The driver told me that they weren’t allowed to enter people’s houses – something about an alleged theft and not being covered by insurance. I quoted the advert and made it clear that if I could carry groceries into the house, I wouldn’t need to order them online. The driver grudgingly brought the shopping into my kitchen, but I didn’t feel I could trust him to do so again.

On a second occasion their driver tried to force my PA to accept the delivery rather than spend 2 minutes fetching me to come downstairs, saying that they don’t care who signs, it just has to be an adult over 18 – this was the nail in the coffin for Tesco.

Slight access fail: Sainsbury’s

Sainsbury’s delivered to me just before Christmas. They arrived on time and only had a few substitutions. However, as I was checking the items and handing carrier bags back to the driver, he asked “So, what’s wrong with you then?” Wow.

I considered how to respond – I didn’t want to disclose honestly, nor did I think it was the place to give him one of my more cutting responses, so I just said “er – how is that any of your business?” He was flustered, so I went on to educate him that it is just not appropriate to ask that kind of thing, and that medical matters are private. To be fair, the poor guy apologised profusely. I would consider ordering from them again, as long as they’ve trained their staff in which topics make appropriate conversation (if in doubt, the weather is always a safe bet) and what is completely unacceptable, especially when you are in someone’s home and they may feel vulnerable.

The winner: Asda

Yes – Asda! To be honest, I only tried them because I was fed up with my experiences of other retailers. I would never consider doing my weekly shop in their physical store – it’s always busy, the customers seem to be preoccupied and rude (I’ve been shoved into by several unsupervised children), they don’t stock all the products I want (such as artichoke hearts in oil and a decent sparkling wine) and their staff rarely offer help with packing – assistance to the car is out of the question.

However, when it came to an online delivery I was able to pick items that were suitable, and the website even ordered them by price which helped me select the range I needed for each product. Admittedly their delivery slots are 2 hours long which made it a little harder for me to plan my day, but you know what you’re getting. The drivers are friendly, they delivered to my dining table without quibble, the few substitutions made were sensible, and the whole experience was as positive as it could be. Sure, I needed to sneak out for a few top-up items elsewhere, but that’s the same with most deliveries, due to substitutions or just running out of things a few days earlier than I’d expected.

Even if you – like me – are the sort of person who prefers M&S and Waitrose for their high quality products, when it comes to online shopping, give Asda a go. As a physically disabled person, I found I could rely on them and they hit the mark. And don’t be sucked in by offers of money off or free champagne – give Waitrose the widest berth possible.

Let me know your experiences of online shopping in the comments below.

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11 Responses to "Online shopping as a disabled person – who to avoid, who to try"

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I’ll give asda a try after finally having had my fill of sainsburys.
Until recently both members of this household ( my father is now regaining his mobility) have been restricted in their ability to leave the house & do an hour in a noisy, overwhelming supermarket.
Getting the delivery men to bring the shopping in was hit and miss, with drivers assuming 2 people in house meant their job ended at doorstep. Some capitulated gladly when informed of situation, some grumped their way through it, some couldn’t have cared less about our pain in bending & carrying heavy items. None demanded an explanation though.
Another bugbear is conflicts between what the website says in stock & the reality in store. Just last week I was forced to go out while suffering from loss of sensation in feet and high anxiety levels to get an item they said was out of stock only to find the store had the item. Nope-not impressed at all.
All that coupled with an appalling mobile website means I’ve had all I can take. Not a week goes by without an issue.

Thanks for your comment – I’m really sorry you have also had problems, though.

I don’t understand why some companies are better than others at stock management. I always order a couple of days before delivery, usually edit it up to the last available time (usually the night before it is due) and so there is no reason why their website can’t reflect stock levels – and if I then select an item, it is reserved for me. Ocado isn’t too bad at this, although they show a lot of items that I want as being out of stock, but if I choose something else I know it will generally show up at my house. But the other stores often have to bring substitutes for items that I had selected less than 24 hours earlier, and often these are things that don’t have a short shelf life (such as cans of drink). I really don’t understand that – if I’ve booked 36 cans of diet 7up, is it too hard to keep them for me, for fewer than 24 hours?

Of course if I made the order a month in advance I’d understand if items were out of stock by the time of delivery, but that is NEVER the case with me!

I hope you find a supermarket that will do a good job – I wonder how much depends on the company, and how much on the area/region – please do keep us posted!

Great write up Flash!

Thank you for reading and commenting :-)

My health issues have left me completely housebound now so the only way I can grocery shop is online.TBH I’ve had more good experience than bad.I use Sainsburys most (as they stock the foods/soya milk I like best, my situation is complicated by having intolerances and other issues around food) Ocado have been lovely,and Asda (always cheerful) the only one I’ve had issues with is Tesco, grumpy drivers,lost items,even a lost van once! My big bugbear is the minimum spend I like to shop more than once a week (so I can have fresh items like bread ,fruit etc ) be nice if they recognised this for disabled people and dropped the minimum spend for us.Delivery charges aren’t a problem as if I was able to go out I’d have to spend that (and more) on taxis and a carer.Just my 2p!

That is a good point, about the minimum delivery amount. I am in somewhat of a privileged situation in that I expect to spend a certain amount on wine or drinks, and a certain amount more on supplies for the local food bank, before I even start on everyday groceries. So I easily exceed their minimum levels.

Perhaps you could top up your weekly delivery from a supermarket with a delivery from a veg-box type supplier? Or a milkman? My local milkman also delivers bread, spuds, juice etc. several days a week, and many veg-box suppliers have relationships with bakeries and others in order to deliver so much more than just veg and fruit – although I’m not sure how affordable they are, and I know that with veg-box schemes you do have to accept the delivery date that they offer in your area. However they often have a lower minimum such as £15 which would cover veg, bread and juice (say) and then you could arrange the grocery delivery of other items on a different day, to spread things through the week?

I do realise that I am in a very lucky position though, and many of my disabled friends do not get all the benefits and care that they need, so they barely have enough to get by, and this makes it much harder to organise deliveries on a schedule that suits.

Final idea – do you live in an area with a residents’ association or some other community initiative? I actually chair my local residents’ assoc, and one of the things we offer is a “flu buddy” scheme – i.e. if you fall ill and can’t get out of the house, a neighbour will buddy up and fetch essential groceries and prescriptions for you. We haven’t had much take up of this (partly because swine flu wasn’t as bad as people feared, and partly because we already tend to look out for our neighbours in this area) but it might be worth putting out feelers to see if there is a kind neighbour who wouldn’t mind picking up a few fresh items for you twice a week, when they go for themselves. I’m sure people in my street would do that for someone in need (and make a new friend in the process) – might that work in your area too? If not, is it something you could consider starting?

How do you find someone to help like this with getting prescriptions for me or help understanding online shopping delivery times and slots its confusing

With prescriptions, do you have a good pharmacy that can help? For example my local pharmacy will keep track of when my prescriptions are due, they then put in the request to my GP, they collect the script from them a couple of days later, and then they call me to let me know it is waiting. Tesco do something similar and will even deliver the medicines to your door, so you dont need to do anything at all. I would ask your local pharmacy if they can help, and if they arent very useful try Tesco or Boots and ask about their repeat prescriptions and delivery services, and see if that sorts you out.

For understanding online shopping websites, I would say call the supermarket youre looking at, they should have a phoneline for website support, hopefully they can then talk you through it.

If you dont currently have any assistance eg from a PA or “carer” have you asked social services to come and assess you? They wont help with shopping but if you are having genuine problems with medication, they may be able to assign you some care hours so someone can help you and make sure you are taking them when you need and dont run out. It will depend on your council as to whether they offer support for this, but it is always worth asking.

Good luck!

Since writing, Ive given Tesco another go, a few times. They have brought the crates to my dining table, though they never help me remove the items onto the table, even when I explain I have weak wrists and cannot bend – they will hold the crates for me to unload, for as long as it takes.

Also, I cannot get my head around their substitution policy. They have substituted Pimms with Irish Cream (er, what did they think all the lemonade was for? Why sub a summer drink for a winter one? Why not provide a different size of Pimms?) and replaced small stickers with DL envelopes. Because obviously I can put a DL envelope on food in the freezer.

They also just didnt bring canned tuna. I find it impossible to believe they had no canned fish at all…

I am guessing that their substitution policy is ‘find something in the same general department for the exact same price’. I cant see what else it would be! Either way, it doesnt make sense.

Although Tesco has come on time when Ive used them lately, and the delivery staff were friendly, they didnt help me unload, and then the stupid substitutions meant I had to top up the shopping in a real store anyway – all of which is pretty abysmal for soneone who is physically disabled, limited on energy, and relies on home delivery.

When Asda dont have a convenient slot Im not sure where to turn, frankly!

Hi I’m also disabled and need to know if it costs to deliver if so how much, asda are good but minimuim spend is £25 this is okay but hard to reach for me what are the delivery prices for between 9am and 12am or 10am to 1pm as there my best times as ill be in an concentrating to deal with the shopping

Hi Julie,

It’s hard to say what the costs are as they vary between stores, they also charge different amounts depending on how much you spend, and what day of the week it is or even time of day. For example, Ocado will charge less if they are already doing a delivery in your area at your preferred time (it is indicated by a green van logo in the booking form). So it really does vary and all I can suggest is you log on to the different websites and have a look. However, I think it is worth paying a couple of pounds more for good service, rather than just going for the cheapest one – although I do realise that many disabled people are on a tight budget. Technically, things like the additional costs of having groceries delivered are the sort of things that DLA / PIP would be able to cover. So, if delivery costs are a problem, do check you are getting the maximum benefits possible too.

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