Online food shopping – first time for everything in Swindon

I’ve been challenged to write a blog a day for the month of June by the business club I Am Woman – as I’m an enthusiastic member.


. As a huge advocate of blogging, I do try to write a new blog at least twice a month but sometimes life takes over.

So this idea of keeping a month-long diary seems like a tall order. But that’s just it – surely a blog can be like an online diary, just bearing in mind that it literally is an open book – anyone can read it. Therefore, like all social media, you have to think twice about putting everything ‘out there.


As June starts on a weekend, I did have a little lesson on something new today. For the first time, I ordered groceries from an online shopping site. In spite of being a lover of social media, I’d not done this before. The first lesson came very quickly – when asking your child to call up the site for the supermarket – with very orange branding – don’t assume the first site is the correct one.


It must have taken ten minutes before we realised that we weren’t on the right site. Another one, which you can use to get to any major store, comes first. As I had a money-off voucher, it had to be the right one.


Next lesson, it’s quite hard to navigate round this orange site, the pages are larger than the screen, so we had to have a lot of frustration around trying to see all the images on the page. Then there was the confusion over delivery, on an early page the delivery slot clearly said £3.99 but when shopping, it was over £6 and only came down to the  lower price when you’d spent more than £40 – that was not made clear at the beginning.


One good thing though is that I find myself less tempted to buy as much. I was much more focussed on what was needed rather than what I  saw to whet the appetite. It was actually a struggle to spend my £60 limit. So for me, that was a bonus.


It now remains to be seen if the delivery comes on time, is accurate with not too many substitutes. Who knows, I might even do it again.



How to create a community magazine – the ups & downs…

I’ve decided that I’m going to do a series of related blogs about the challenges of creating a community magazine

SWINDON HERITAGE – www.swindonheritage.com


Back in January, a group of three people in Swindon – Graham, Mark and Frances – decided to write, design and print Swindon Heritage to celebrate the town’s history with interesting stories, pictures, archives and ‘today’ stories or interviews influenced by history. I was not involved initially.

The idea had been kicking around for some time but eventually this trio of writers and historians decided to go for it. No money or support came from any outside source. Swindon’s oldest company Arkells hosted the launch where about 70 people attended  – including me.

The first edition was of exceptional quality – I knew the content was strong but the design and high quality glossy feel was unexpected. Then the trio asked me to help out in a consultancy role, to push other ideas and help out. We have had wonderful content, so far enough for a year. The challenge is raising enough to cover all costs and perhaps become a social enterprise.

So for the last few weeks, I’ve had a go at selling advertising space, had various meetings with more to come and have just enjoyed having any role in this lovely publication.

We’ve had great support from Swindon Council, both MPs (please subscribe Sirs if you haven’t already), the new Police & Crime Commissoner for Wiltshire, and hundreds of subscribers. We’ve also been supported by more than a dozen local independent shops and newsagents eager to stock the magazine (it sells at £4.99 a copy).

One big surprise, and disappointment,  has been the reluctance of bigger companies to even agree to sell the magazine or even look at it, taking just a small percentage of the cover price. We have repeatedly tried to get W H Smiths to sell the magazine in the Swindon area – but they keep saying we have to go through their normal distribution process  – something we cannot afford. How disappointing that one of the town’s biggest employers has no ability to stock a community magazine.

The other disappointment was Asda – with two big stores in Swindon. Asda makes a big deal about being part of the local community .However when it comes to Swindon Heritage – it’s a different matter. After hearing the spiel about having to go through their ‘normal’ processes so they can take a 20 to 25 per cent cut (which we cannot afford) – they did agree to look at the magazine.

Sadly, Asda head office in Leeds said it was not considered suitable for its customers in Swindon and would not consider stocking it. (I promise you there’s nothing inappropriate with this magazine).

So clearly its community agenda is highly selective. I wonder if Swindonians living in West and North Swindon feel happy that Asda has decided what is and is not suitable for them.

Is Asda for the community – what do you think?

Still, I’m hoping that one of the other supermarkets in Swindon or big retailers will be the first to support us – believe me I’ll shout about that. So come on Sainbury’s, Tesco, Morrisons, Martins et al – we’re waiting to hear from you….

I want to shout out about this lack of support from some of the town’s bigger businesses to show them up against those small businesses which are more than ready to ‘take a chance’ and are happy with their smaller cut of the cover price.

All of our stockists get a free shout-out in the May edition which comes out at the end of next week – front page picture is a lovely image of the late, great Diana Dors. If you live in Swindon and want to learn more about your town’s history – this is the magazine for you.

Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda or M&S? Which one gets your vote at Christmas?

The fridge is full for Christmas - at last

Today we did a mega-shopping day visiting four supermarkets in a single day to get all the things on my ridiculous Christmas shopping list.

I think that puts me in a good position to assess the supermarkets’ readiness for December 23 – probably the busiest shopping day of the year – in Swindon at least.

First stop, by 9.30am was a town centre Marks & Spencer. Already very, very busy and (is it me?) full of people who think it’s okay to push you out of the way, tut in your ear and be generally grumpy. Nevertheless, the choice was reasonable, there was plenty of stock and we were able to buy the basketful of items we like the M&S way (pudding type things mainly, plus their version of Walnut Whips!).

Then on to Tesco – probably  my most hated supermarket in Swindon – as it seems to attract the most aggressive, anti-social shopper on earth. We just wanted a single item here – a prawn cocktail pot with a chilli flavour that they did about three years ago and which we have searched for ever since with no luck. Still, they did have a toilet so that made up for a lot! But no prawn cocktail, so a quick exit was in order.

Third Sainsbury’s – the venue for the main shop as we’d saved more than £100 in vouchers for the Christmas shop. However, I’ll think twice next year. We arrived here at about 11am, maybe a bit earlier, and the shelves were so empty it was almost unbelievable. I had the last few loose parsnips and carrots. We had to divide our efforts in the fruit & veg sections or we wouldn’t have been able to purchase anything. There were no sprouts (apart from those on a big stalk), no loose red onions, no Maris Pipers (my favourite for roasters). It was staggeringly busy with people in trolley jams all around but I couldn’t work out if it was phenomenal sales or really, really poor planning on the shop’s part. Around every corner as well as a zillion trolley-pushers, there were at least two large carts with frantic staff trying to fill up shelves.  I couldn’t get any dips like potato salad, humus or Waldorf salad – the kind of stuff I love on Boxing Day. And the only fresh herbs available were parsley, probably the only one I didn’t want!

Hence a quick trip to Asda – where there was so much food it was spilling out of the front door. No worries about sprouts here. In fact, I’d be worried about what’s going to be left as it was 5.30pm when we got there and there was stacks and stacks of food. I also picked up my herbs and nutmeg and was able to tick off the final things on my daft list.

I do now feel like I can relax – the food is in, the turkey is fresh and free range (ought to be gold-plated for what it cost) and the gammon looks like it could feed an army – but four kids should make light work of it!

Tomorrow it’s a pantomime of another kind – shorter, more entertaining and a lot cheaper – bring it on Keith Chegwin!


What do you think of self-service at the supermarket? Review my findings….

the hard sell at the orange supermarket.....

Smarter shopping – that was the subject of a blog post I recently wrote for www.birdsontheblog.co.uk where I talked about my strategy for saving money on the weekly shop.
Do have a look – but in a nutshell, it’s now core shopping at Lidl and top-up shopping at the more traditional supermarkets in my home town of Swindon eg. Asda & Sainsbury’s.

Just a few months of shopping in this way is now saving me an average of £80 a month and I’ve got the spreadsheet to prove it.

However, at the weekend, I realised how seduced I’ve been for so long into buying from the Asda, Sainsbury’s and Tescos of this country.
I whizzed into the orange shop to quickly pick up a few things that we needed. As I emerged from my car – I’m accosted by ‘car wash madam?’ at least once – no, no, no.

I don’t know about you but I really object to being harassed every time I go shopping about having my car washed.

If a business is going to run from the orange supermarket’s car park, let me use it if I want to.


Please don’t bother me every time I park up which is probably twice a week. I’m never rude by the way, I just don’t like being sold to in this way.


The green supermarket has a much better system – a corner of the car park is given over to such a business and the motorist chooses to go there. No pressure, and very, very busy at weekends.
Charity collecting by the door I can just about cope with – after all, I’ll give if it’s a charity close to my heart. Generally I’m not accosted by anyone, it’s a matter of choice if I want to make a donation.

But if someone shakes a can under my nose, I’m unlikely to stump up cash.
Once in the shop, I’m no longer seduced by smells, special offers etc – I just head for the aisles which stock what I need. If a special offer applies to those products, brilliant. If not, then so what?
But please don’t try to then harass me to switch my electricity and gas (this has happened to me several times as well). I don’t want to think about that when I’m shopping. So I use this ruse every time – ‘I’m already with you…..’.

The worst and most annoying thing though are the ‘quick’ (and I use the term extremely loosely) self-service check-outs at the orange supermarket.

I must try these at least once a week in the hope that they actually will be quicker. Today I was lucky, in and out in a flash.
Last week, I was not so. And most of my experience has been like this….


Loose peppers caused it to almost explode – that meant searching through menus to find a pepper.

Then there are the bar codes, the machine can’t read. So I’ll type in the mile-long number to get that item through.
Then that awful message ‘unknown item in the bagging area, unknown item in the bagging area’ at 300 decibels so everyone in the store can hear.


I don’t know why they don’t go the whole hog and have a spotlight on the unfortunate shopper who has an ‘unknown item in the bagging area’ so that we can all take a good gawp. 


It would be more honest for the machine to say ‘idiot who cannot use the technology’ just to complete the humiliation. 

Having grappled with the ‘unknown item’ phenomenon (after all, it’s not usually because you’ve been trying to shoplift) you look around for help.


The three ‘hovering’ staff who were there about 30 seconds ago have all gone. There you are, like a lemon, wasting time and negating the effect of having speedier service.
I love the idea of speedy, self-service in the supermarket but I look forward to the day when it works properly.


Until then, when I’m not in a hurry, I’ll take the human being sitting at a till and when I’m in a rush – I’ll try to make do with what’s in the fridge.

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