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27 Feb 2021

Which supermarket do shoppers feel safest in?

A quarter of UK adults have felt unsafe at the supermarket during the current lockdown
shoppers between barriers

Supermarkets have spent millions of pounds on coronavirus safety measures since the start of the pandemic, but some are doing a better job of making shoppers feel safe than others.

Perspex screens, floor markings and masks are all par for the course when it comes to grocery shopping at the moment.

Yet even with these protections in place, one quarter (26%) of people in the UK have felt unsafe when shopping at the supermarket during the current lockdown, according to a new Which? survey.

While every grocery chain has taken similar steps to hinder the spread of coronavirus in their stores, our survey found that customers think some shops feel safer than others.

Here, we reveal which supermarket chains people think are the safest and least safe, and take a look at how protected people feel generally when they're shopping for groceries during lockdown.

Which supermarket is safest?

While safety measures at supermarkets may seem similar on the surface, there were some clear winners when we asked Which? members how they rated supermarkets' in-store safety measures.

Sainsbury's came out on top, with 81% saying the grocer's COVID measures were good or excellent. M&S (79%) and Waitrose (78%) followed close behind.

Iceland and Lidl came at the bottom of the bunch, with each being rated good or excellent by 66% of their customers.

Supermarket (links take you to our reviews of each retailer)Percentage of shoppers who rated in-store COVID measures as good or excellent
Marks & Spencer79%

Based on a survey of 3,037 members of the general public on 22-30 October 2020. Data has been weighted to be representative of the UK adult population.

Though some supermarkets fared worse than others, every chain scored above 50% in our survey, meaning respondents considered all of them to be safer than they were unsafe on balance.

However, as you'll see in the next section, this doesn't mean people at the supermarket are worry-free.

Quarter of UK adults feel unsafe at the supermarket

In spring 2020, the outbreak of COVID-19 forced supermarkets to quickly adapt their in-store operations. The British Retail Consortium (BRC) says grocery firms have spent hundreds of millions making their stores safer.

As lockdown measures were relaxed over the summer, anecdotal reports suggest some supermarkets were less strict on shopper numbers and social distancing. But at the start of 2021, many retailers tightened up on measures once more, enforcing mask-wearing for all but the medically exempt, and introducing stricter limits on shopper numbers.

Despite this, a quarter (26%) of the 2,010 UK adults we surveyed earlier this month said they had felt unsafe at the supermarket under the current lockdown.

Some 38% said they did feel safe, while another quarter (26%) said they felt neither safe nor unsafe and 11% said they didn't know or the question didn't apply to them.

In October 2020, just before the November lockdown, 49% of the public said they felt safe in supermarkets based on the retailers' coronavirus safety measures.

Where do shoppers stick to social distancing?

Of course, one factor that's harder for supermarkets to control is how their customers behave - and when we surveyed people in October, a quarter said they'd witnessed fellow shoppers ignoring social distancing rules.

A third (31%) of Aldi and Asda customers reported having seen others ignore the rules, while only one in ten (12%) of Waitrose shoppers said they'd witnessed rule-breakers.

SupermarketPercentage of shoppers who experienced other shoppers not following social distancing

Based on a survey of 3,037 members of the general public in October 2020.

Though some supermarkets say they've begun enforcing mask-wearing, many shoppers told us they'd seen fellow customers without masks. We even heard some describe their local supermarket as a 'free for all'.

To avoid other shoppers, some said they shop early in the morning when stores are quieter.

The clinically extremely vulnerable (people on the shielding list) are advised not to visit supermarkets at the moment.