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