Waitrose's polite and smiling brush-off at Burgess Hill when I asked why their fresh milk was sometimes 'off' led, as foreseen, to a change in my shopping habits. I still regard Waitrose as a very good supermarket, very much a store that I feel at home in, but it's no longer my main source for everyday food and household items. Just compare my shopping record for November 2014 with that for February 2015:
Cost of goods bought at Waitrose (mostly at Burgess Hill, ten minutes away)
1st November £47.20
6th November £60.46
12th November £59.87
16th November £47.76
20th November £55.57
23rd November £20.79
27th November £85.73
Car fuel for these shopping trips @ £1 every time: £7
Car parking @ £0.80 each time except on 1st November: £4.80 (fully refunded by Waitrose, so net £0)
OVERALL COST: £384
Cost of goods bought at Budgens (two different stores, both within walking distance)
3rd November £3.55
8th November £2.00
Car fuel for these shopping trips: £0
Car parking each time: £0
Cost of goods bought at Sainsbury's (at Hove, twenty minutes away)
26th November £20.00
Car fuel for this shopping trip: £2
Car parking for this shopping trip: £0
GRAND TOTAL FOR NOVEMBER 2014
COMBINED AMOUNT SPENT: £412
Cost of goods bought at Waitrose (at Burgess Hill, ten minutes away)
3rd February £14.11
10th February £43.54
20th February £36.42
Car fuel for these shopping trips @ £1 every time: £3
Car parking @ £0.80 each time: £2.40 (fully refunded by Waitrose on two occasions, so net only £0.80)
Cost of goods bought at Budgens (at Henfield, twenty minutes away)
3rd February £53.26
6th February £24.39
10th February £21.64
13th February £17.60
17th February £35.76
20th February £28.93
25th February £56.49
Car fuel for these shopping trips @ £2 every time: £14
Car parking each time: £0
GRAND TOTAL FOR FEBRUARY 2015
COMBINED AMOUNT SPENT: £350
So despite a longer car journey to get to Henfield and back, it pays quite handsomely to shop there, at Budgens, for most of the time. Although Budgens is by no means a cheap store, I've saved £62 in February, compared to what shopping cost me in November, when my destination was almost exclusively Waitrose. I'm still getting some specific items at Waitrose, where Budgens don't have quite what I want, but really I could eliminate Waitrose altogether, if I so wished. There's no need to, but you can clearly see how a little thing like getting my fresh milk from somewhere else has completely altered the shopping pattern.
I'm sure Waitrose didn't believe me about the milk, and did nothing afterwards to check that their delivery handling arrangements were as perfect as they supposed them to be. I shrug my shoulders at that. I expected little else for my trouble.
However, instead of spending £377 with them every month I am now spending only £94 - a reduction of £283, or £3,396 if projected over twelve months. If I were the manager at Burgess Hill, I'd be rather concerned about this underspend! They have reduced themselves to my occasional source for a few above-average or niche products, but they are not where I now go for the bulk of my ordinary food and household shopping.
Waitrose elsewhere is another thing. I've never had any problem with their stores in other parts of the country, and, for instance, I would still shop at the very, very good Waitrose-cum-John-Lewis at Salisbury. But this is really to talk of food shopping while on holiday, and not when at home.
You might now say to me 'The scales have fallen from your eyes, haven't they? Waitrose is not necessarily the best in all respects, and you have proved to yourself that they are overly expensive for what they offer.' I'd agree that this is fair comment.
I have made much in the past of the 'atmosphere' of a store, and I still appreciate how Waitrose 'feels'. But it isn't worth spending another £62 a month to get it. Budgens has a good 'feel' too, does more to support local producers, has (like Waitrose) staff who get to know you and will talk to you, and the store at Henfield is hassle-free to get to, park at, and shop at. What's not to like?