Grocery buyer beware: the perils of online supermarket shopping

Check that little quantity box carefully before you add to cart. One false click and you might find a truckload of rice ...
Check that little quantity box carefully before you add to cart. One false click and you might find a truckload of rice on your doorstep. Photo: iStock

Be careful what you click for.

I love baking but what's a person to do when your online grocery order goes awry, and instead of a single, sensible bag of flour, you instead have six kilos of the stuff delivered to your doorstep?

Solution? Well, there really isn't one, not when it's you (in this case, me) who made the mistake with a slip of the finger. The only comfort is that any time you fancy whipping up a quick batch of scones, you're set for months.

It would be better if there were a way of connecting with others who have experienced similar online shopping fiascos. Perhaps then I could have joined forces with the person who tells me they ordered six bananas and got six dozen instead, setting up a roadside stall selling banana bread until we'd used up the excess.

Such disasters are many and varied, as I discovered after sharing my own flour misfortune on social media. Online grocery ordering has been an absolute lifesaver for millions during the pandemic, when a trip to the supermarket turned into a fight for toilet paper at best and a COVID lottery at worst. But it has not always been a seamless transition to digital shopping.

Indeed, it was the notorious 2020 toilet paper wars that gave rise to one of the best online ordering stories of the pandemic: the poor soul who ordered six boxes from Who Gives A Crap, the socially conscious purveyor of loo rolls. The result: 288 rolls of ethically sound toilet paper, the orderer having missed the important detail that the company whacks 48 rolls in each box.

Then there was writer and author Benjamin Law, who last year lamented his accidental purchase in his first online shopping experience. "Thought I was buying five mandarins but instead bought five kilos I want to die," he tweeted, with a picture documenting the disaster.

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How bad can online shopping go?

Consider the following honour roll:

  • Seventeen loaves of raisin bread and 10 large pumpkins. "I was too annoyed to look up what stupid mistake I'd made."
  • Six onions? How about six bags of onions, at two kilograms a bag. "12kg Is A LOT of brown onions…"
  • Three kilograms of peaches instead of three single peaches. "I was living alone at the time."
  • And the same in reverse: one potato, after intending to order a kilogram.

The stories go on. Thirty avocados. Thirty tomatoes instead of six. Nine kilograms of mushrooms. Six kilograms of pears. Five kilos of carrots instead of five. Twelve cartons of eggs. Seven litres of vinegar.

And on the other side of the kitchen equation, this from broadcaster Margaret Throsby: "Deep in lockdown and dreaming of doing some cooking, I impulsively ordered a glamorous Japanese chef's knife. Received five. No idea how: but returning them proved impossible so everyone got glamorous chef's knives for Christmas. Simple."

But all the world's online ordering muck-ups pale next to the story from India that had people around the world agog back in 2020. It began with this tweet:

Lest you be unfamiliar with cyber abbreviations, "lmfao" is an acronym describing laughing with such force that your bum falls off. What was even better was that the tweeter, Shiv Ramadas, kept the world updated with the rice drama as it unfolded, including the continuing fury of his sister at the rice-laden lorry that had arrived at her house.

"If you have never heard a woman destroy a man with one sentence 25 times in a row you should meet my sister. She's terrifying."

The live Twitter broadcast of the drama went on and on — through various stages of anger, bribery and false hopes of a solution, before eventually ending in a peaceful resolution that still involved an enormous quantity of unwanted rice.

The moral of the story? Check that little quantity box on the grocery website carefully. And if you do go wrong, take it in good humour – and consider yourself lucky not to be hoarding 288 rolls of dunny paper or a literal truckload of rice.