Supermarkets' online shopping under pressure amid new lockdown

Saleha Riaz
·4 min read
Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, England, UK - September 17th 2020: Ocado home delivery van supplying groceries to family home during the Coronavirus pandemic
Supermarkets are now having to cope with a sudden surge in demand for online shopping and users are complaining about issues with their websites and app. Photo: Getty

UK supermarkets, including Tesco (TSCO.L), Sainsbury (SBRY.L) and Ocado (OCDO.L), appear to be struggling to deal with the pressures on their online shopping service as customers rush to book orders ahead of the latest COVID-19 lockdown.

On Monday evening, prime minister Boris Johnson announced a national lockdown and instructed people to stay at home to control the spread of the coronavirus.

The decision followed a rapid rise in infections, hospital admissions and case rates across the country.

Supermarkets are now having to cope with a sudden surge in demand for online shopping and users are complaining about issues with their websites and app.

Watch: Boris Johnson announces third national lockdown in England

Sainsbury’s app reportedly went down for some time.

Twitter user Kim Foster said regarding Sainsbury: “So I book a slot and then go to pay and your app and website go down so I loose the slot and now there aren’t any more for the whole week! Don’t want to take my 8 week old shopping in lockdown!”

A spokesperson for the supermarket told Yahoo Finance: “We temporarily limited access to our groceries online service last night so that we could manage high demand for slots and updates customers were making to existing orders. We’re continuing to monitor the situation and are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Another consumer said nothing was available for the next three weeks on the Tesco website, for either delivery or click and collect, despite them having priority access as they come under the bracket of vulnerable people.

This is despite the fact that an email from Tesco UK CEO Jason Tarry, sent to customers on 22 December, said that since March, the company has “more than doubled home delivery and Click+Collect slots to 1.5 million a week, with over 760,000 vulnerable customers registered with us who are eligible for priority slots."

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A spokesman for Tesco told the BBC there had been no reports from its technical department of any website problems.

Asda appears to be having issues as well, with a user saying “I'm in a queue for Asda (online) too change my order (they had slots for Wed onwards) but I suspect they will go, Tesco was booked up for 3 weeks.”

One user on Twitter noted that Ocado has reintroduced virtual queues on their app.

Users were faced with a message saying: “A lot of customers are using the app right now, so we’ve placed you in a queue to keep things running smoothly.” At one point, there were 5,311 people in the queue.

A spokeswoman for Sainsbury told the BBC it would investigate the issue and may have more details on Tuesday.

Morrisons reported a jump in the number of shoppers using its website after the announcement.

However, despite the longer waiting queues, it said it has "good slot availability" for home deliveries.

Meanwhile the latest grocery market share figures from Kantar show that online grocery sales accounted for 12.6% of total spend in December, compared with 7.4% in 2019, and Ocado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer.

It also said December 2020 was the busiest month on record for British supermarkets, with shoppers spending £11.7bn ($15.8bn) on take-home groceries during the past four weeks.

Kantar’s report noted that changing tier restrictions, Brexit negotiations and reports of delays at Dover meant Brits shopped earlier than normal and the busiest day of the year was 21 December, when 15 million households hit the supermarkets

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, noted that: “Uncertainty around a deal and images of lorries sat at Dover meant consumers shopped earlier than usual and 21 December was the busiest shopping day of the year.

“Fifteen million households, more than half the entire population, visited a grocer at some point that day and spent a collective £819m. This is a real step change from recent years when consumers have typically completed their ‘big shop’ closer to Christmas Day.”

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