Supermarkets play a significant role in the lives of Australians, one that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted.
Over the past 12 months or so, supermarkets have frequently made the news headlines, with stories about the panic buying of toilet paper, grocery stockpiling, product purchase limits and dedicated opening hours for essential workers, to name just a few.
Two years on from our previous survey, the concept of supermarket satisfaction now has a pandemic-related criterion. A supermarket may have helpful staff, efficient checkouts, good-quality produce and easy parking – but how happy are customers with its approach to cleaning and other COVID-safe measures?
People are also doing more and more of their grocery shopping online, a trend that's likely to continue. Are the supermarkets that offer this service delivering a good experience?
We asked more than 3100 supermarket shoppers to tell us what they really think of their supermarket, so we can tell you which are the best – and the worst.
Although online grocery shopping is on the rise, most people still prefer to shop in the bricks-and-mortar branches of supermarkets – mainly because they like to check the quality of fresh produce (like fruit, vegetables, meat and fish) before they buy.
It's easier to browse and compare different products instore, according to our survey respondents.
Best supermarket for shopping instore
Our survey results show that when it comes to shopping instore, SA-based Foodland is your favourite supermarket, closely followed by SA/Qld-based Drakes and NSW-based Harris Farm Markets.
- Foodland (82%)
- Drakes (79%)
- Harris Farm Markets (78%)
These chains received the highest overall scores for supermarket satisfaction. They also rated higher than their competitors across various criteria including range of products and brands available, and availability of locally produced foods.
Best value for money
Aldi is rated highest for value for money – something we repeatedly find in our regular grocery prices survey – although Costco rates well for value, too.
Best fresh produce
Harris Farm Markets is a clear winner when it comes to quality of fresh produce.
How did Woolworths and Coles rate?
Between them, Coles and Woolworths have almost 67.5% of Australia's grocery market. This duopoly certainly dominates in terms of the number of stores and geographical distribution, but does sheer presence (and the convenience this offers) translate to satisfied instore customers?
Woolworths rates above average for store appearance and layout, clarity of unit pricing signage and the amount and availability of specials and discounts.
And both Coles and Woolworths rate above average for availability of preferred type of checkout, range of products and brands available, and ease of using trolleys and baskets.
But the only criterion they rate best for (on par with Foodland) is their opening hours – they rate lower than at least some of their competitors on all other criteria.
We've profiled each supermarket chain below. For a more detailed comparison, including scores for all 10 supermarkets against 19 criteria, check out our full supermarket satisfaction survey review.
The best supermarkets
Supermarket floor marker to assist with social distancing in the checkout queue
A major change in supermarkets in the past 12 months was the putting in place of COVID-safe measures to help keep staff and customers safe during the pandemic.
These measures included more regular cleaning of frequently touched surfaces, the installation of hygiene stations (hand-sanitising liquid/sprays) and guidance around social distancing.
We asked our survey respondents to rate supermarkets on five different COVID-safe measures, as well as rate them overall for COVID-19 safety.
Overall, Foodland rated higher than most other supermarkets with a score of 76%, closely followed by Drakes with a score of 72%. At 54%, Friendly Grocer's score was significantly lower than those for all other supermarkets, apart from FoodWorks (62%).
Foodland outranked all other supermarkets in four of the criteria:
- Sanitisation supplies (the availability of disinfecting wipes and hand sanitisers for use instore, for example)
- Social distancing (including managing the number of shoppers, markers on floor and staff enforcing social distancing in checkout queues)
- Cleaning (staff regularly wiping down frequently touched surfaces, for example)
- Tracking (the presence of QR codes to scan).
Aldi received the highest score for PPE (checkout protection screens, staff wearing masks/gloves, etc).
Our chart shows how supermarkets rank overall and how shoppers rate them for all five specific COVID-safe measures.
Online grocery shopping - how easy is it to search for and find the items you want?
Until recently, just four percent of grocery shoppers bought their groceries online in an average month, according to market research group Roy Morgan. This number was always forecast to increase, but the COVID-19 pandemic helped rapidly move a whole swathe of customers from shopping instore to online.
Online shopping behaviour
When we asked people to nominate the benefits of supermarket shopping online (as opposed to instore), the most frequently selected responses were 'I can shop any time I want' (78%) and 'I can avoid the crowd/contact with people' (74%). The next highest ranking benefits – less likely to have been influenced by the pandemic – were 'I don't have to carry/transport my groceries' (68%) and 'I don't have to commute/find parking' (63%).
Of the 3000-plus people we surveyed, 32% have bought their groceries online, and 14% grocery shop online at least once a month, most of them at Coles and/or Woolworths.
The number of responses for other chains that offer online shopping was too small to include (see How we survey), so we've compared the two major players, Coles and Woolworths, only.
So who does it best?
Woolworths narrowly beats Coles online
For overall customer satisfaction shopping online, results were close, but Woolworths narrowly takes the gong with a score of 74% compared with Coles' 71%.
Tellingly, more Woolworths online customers (88%) would recommend this supermarket to a friend compared with Coles online customers (82%).
As well as giving an overall rating, customers also rated Coles and Woolworths against 20 criteria relating to their online shopping experience. Delving into the details shows exactly where Woolworths beats Coles on online shopping.
The resulting scores were fairly evenly matched for 11 of the criteria. But Woolworths did edge out Coles for nine of them, with a couple of standouts:
- Range of products and brands available (Woolworths 73% vs Coles 69%)
- Amount and availability of specials and discounts (70% vs 66%)
- Ease of searching for and finding items you want (68% vs 64%)
- Ease of use of the online shop (e.g. adding items to the cart, making changes to the cart, etc.) (73% vs 69%)
- Ease of checkout/payment (80% vs 76%)
- Clarity of unit pricing (i.e. price of a product per 100g) (74% vs 69%)
- Amount of bags/packaging used to deliver the order (63% vs 56%).
The two standout scores in Woolworths' favour were:
- Level of detail about products (e.g. pack images, pack size, stock availability, regular price if on special, country of origin information, ingredients list, nutrition information) (66% vs 56%)
- Helpfulness of online customer service (e.g. refund/exchange, assistance) (73% vs 64%)
Providing more info gives Woolies the edge
When you're grocery shopping online, you don't have the benefit of being able to see what's in stock, compare price tags and look closely at the pack.
But Woolworths appears to give more details online than Coles does. It seems that Woolworths:
- highlights key information including health star ratings where available
- highlights the regular price when a product is on special (not just how much you save)
- displays product photos showing the front, back and side of packs;
- gives shoppers the ability to check stock availability in stores.
All this makes for a better shopping experience. And having good customer service is a bonus too.
Here's a summary of some of the more interesting findings when we compared 2019 and 2021 results:
- Foodland customers are still the happiest customers, with this supermarket chain achieving the highest overall satisfaction score in back-to-back surveys.
- The overall satisfaction score has improved for both Coles and Woolworths this year, despite still being rated as amongst the lowest of the pack.
- Ratings for Woolworths and Coles have also increased for aspects regarding products (e.g. the range of products and brands available, availability of locally produced food, quality of own brand, quality of fresh produce) and shopping experience (e.g. ease of parking, ease of locating items, availability of staff, clarity of unit pricing).
- Coles has also seen increased ratings for helpfulness of staff, ease of use of trolleys/baskets, speed of checkout and store appearance and layout.
- Aldi improved across multiple criteria, notably around product range.
- Despite still being one of the more highly rated supermarkets, Harris Farm Markets had a drop in overall satisfaction score, and decreased ratings for amount and availability of specials and discounts and stock turnover.
We ask shoppers to rate the supermarket(s) where they shop instore or online against a range of different criteria (19 for instore, 20 for online, all listed below) on a seven-point scale ranging from 'excellent' to 'terrible'. We then convert these numbers into a percentage score.
We also ask them to rate their overall shopping experience in their supermarket(s), which we report as the overall score for customer satisfaction. The scores for individual criteria aren't incorporated into the overall score. We also ask if they'd recommend their supermarket(s).
We only include results for supermarket chains that have a minimum of 30 completed surveys specific to that chain. We don't include responses from people who shop instore or online in a supermarket less often than once a month.
A total of 3182 Voice Your Choice members across Australia took part in this survey, which we carried out in February and March 2021.
Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.