Close this search box.

How supermarkets are expanding their online delivery services to handle pandemic demand

This is an archived article - we have removed images and other assets but have left the text unchanged for your reference

Demand to buy groceries online has risen sharply as shoppers self-isolate and work from home. 

We take a look at what the supermarkets are doing to expand their online delivery in the face of higher demand – and at some of the other steps they are taking to protect staff and customers in-store. 


At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, Tesco offered about 660,000 slots for online delivery and click and collect. By the end of March that had expanded to about 780,000 and since then Tesco says its online delivery slots have increased by 20% – or 145,000 – in the last two weeks, taking total slots to about 925,000. It says thousands more are becoming available every day. Nonetheless, it says, demand is so high that it’s still difficult for shoppers to get a delivery slot. 

“We know it’s still difficult to get an online delivery slot due to high demand, so we ask those who are able to safely come to stores to do so, to free up more slots for the more vulnerable,” said Tesco chief executive Dave Lewis in an update yesterday. 

Staff are now getting a 15% discount on their own shopping, and those working in stores, distribution centres and the Tesco call centre are now receiving a 10% bonus, while vulnerable, pregnant and self-isolating staff are being paid from day one. Some 45,000 temporary staff have been recruited to support stores and distribution centres, filling in for those who cannot work as a result of Covid-19. 

Tesco has also started work on building a pop-up shop at the NHS Nightingale Hospital at the NEC in Birmingham. Lewis said that work began on Sunday and the store is expected to be open by the end of next week. It is also in discussion with other Nightingale sites and says it hopes “that this is the first of several pop-up Tesco stores to help NHS staff access the essentials they need, as quickly and conveniently as possible.”


Asda has increased its online delivery slots to 700,000 a week – but it is asking customers to shop in store where they can so that it can prioritise home delivery for vulnerable customers. It has also introduced a volunteer shopper card for those buying for their friends and neighbours. The card enables people who are self-isolating to transfer cash to the card so that those who are helping them can pay for their groceries. 

Staff who are vulnerable or self-isolating are paid in full while they are in isolation, with those aged 70 or over, those who are pregnant, classed as vulnerable, or the carer of an extremely vulnerable person are all offered 12 weeks fully-paid leave. Those who do not need to self-isolate will get an extra week’s pay in June. The retailer is also donating £5m to food bank partners to provide more than 4m meals to families affected by coronavirus. 

In store, the retailer is introducing social distancing, perspex barriers at checkouts and floor markings, while NHS and care workers get priority shopping for the first hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays. 


In its latest update, Sainsbury’s says it will have expanded its online shopping slots, for both home delivery and click and collect, to 600,000 by the end of this week. 

In an update last week it said it could now deliver 472,000 orders a week after expanding the capacity of its online grocery service, while click and collect slots had increased from 41,000 to almost 100,000 a week. Over the past two weeks, it said, it has booked more than 320,000 priority delivery slots for elderly, disabled and vulnerable customers. 

Sainsbury’s also said it had expanded its Chop Chop fast delivery service. Customers can now order a top-up shop of up to 20 grocery products through the Chop Chop app for home delivery in as little as a hour. Orders are fulfilled from its closed Blackfriars convenience store, which has now become its first ‘dark’ convenience store for the trial. Currently, shoppers can order if they live within 3km of the Blackfriars store, but if the service proves popular it will expand the Chop Chop service to other closed Local stores in cities across the UK as well as within London. A “handful” of Local convenience stores are now closed because they have seen significantly fewer customers as more people work from home. The supermarket expects to serve up to 3,500 customers a week from the single store and is working to recruit more riders to deliver orders.

Clodagh Moriarty, chief digital officer at Sainsbury’s said: “Demand for home delivery has reached unprecedented levels and we are doing all we can to find new ways to serve more of our customers. We are pleased to use our Chop Chop service as an extension of our groceries online offer to enable our customers to quickly get food and other essential items delivered to their homes. While we are starting the trial in London we hope to be able to bring this fast delivery service to other cities in the UK very soon.”


Morrisons has launched a click and collect food box for NHS workers, starting at two hospitals in Leeds. Staff order online via a dedicated website and can collect a £30 food box – either for meat eaters or vegetarian – containing items including toilet roll, pasta, rice, soup, tinned goods and fruit and vegetables. Deliveries are made to the car parks at St James’ Hospital and Leeds General Infirmary twice a week, at times to suit both day and night shift workers. The service comes in response to NHS staff who have said on social media that they couldn’t always get the groceries they needed. 

David Potts, Morrisons chief executive, said: “At this important time, the National Health Service is supporting the whole country so we need to support them too. We will be taking this service to many more hospitals to help feed NHS staff as they face into the challenges of treating people affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”

The supermarket has also announced a bonus for all staff that is worth £1,050 for those working full-time. The supermarket also pays its vulnerable and high risk staff, or those living with someone who is high risk, to self-isolate for 12 weeks. Checkout screens and social distancing have been introduced in stores. 


Waitrose says that on some days it has more than 2m visits to its slot booking page – and says it is in process of increasing slots to 20% more than usual. The retailer, which has drafted in delivery and other staff from closed John Lewis stores, says it has more than 100,000 extra people-hours available to pick orders – nearly 50% more than usual. Waitrose says on its website: “We’re doing all we can to give slots to as many people as we possible can – especially those who need them the most. But we know we can still never have enough for demand. As an example of this, some days we have over 2m visits to our slot booking page. To allow us to cope with demand, we are asking customers to wait for communication from us rather than trying to get in touch.”

The John Lewis Partnership said this week it would pay staff an extra £25 for every week they work in April and May, working both in Waitrose supermarkets and to support John Lewis online. The payment, to be made to both non-management staff and first level managers, represents about 11% of the average full-time non-management partners’s weekly wage.

The partnership is also increasing the partnership discount in Waitrose to 25%, from 15% previously, during the pandemic. Once the peak of the pandemic is over, that discount will remain permanently at 20%. This adds to measures that already include free meals for staff and a support fund to help those who are are seeing their costs rise as a result of the pandemic, for example in childcare costs. 

Waitrose supermarkets have also introduced priority treatment for NHS workers and has in-store measures to help customers shop safely, while protecting staff. Like other supermarkets, it has raised the limit for contactless payments to £45 from £30 – a measure that is now rolled out across its store estate.


Ocado said in its latest blogpost that demand has been 10 times higher than normal and web traffic up to 100 times higher, while contact centre enquiries are 500% above normal. It has closed its doors to new customers from early March while protecting its staff by buying them Covid-19 tests and guaranteeing them delivery slots. 

The average order is more than 50% larger than usual, while, it says, practically all of its nearly 800,000 active customers have wanted to place at least one order a week. “This is a level of demand several times our current capacity. With these new bigger grocery shops our customers are doing, even running our warehouses 24/7 with new colleagues to support us, we cannot deliver to more than 250,000 homes in any given week.”

In the post, it apologised to customers who had not got the access to deliveries that they wanted and said that it would be prioritising vulnerable customers before releasing remaining next-day slots after 9pm. Smart Pass customers who did not receive an order in March can either get a refund or donate the money to Ocado’s food bank partners.


Supermarket Iceland said today that it had expanded its online delivery services by 250% – as the business responds to higher levels of demand over recent weeks, Iceland managing director Richard Walker said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. Iceland was one of the first retailers to introduce exclusive shopping hours for vulnerable customers and for NHS staff and it also offers contact-free deliveries. 

Image courtesy of Morrisons

Read More

Register for Newsletter

Group 4 Copy 3Created with Sketch.

Receive 3 newsletters per week

Group 3Created with Sketch.

Gain access to all Top500 research

Group 4Created with Sketch.

Personalise your experience on