Supermarkets are on the front lines of the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and have been forced to find new ways to reach the millions of vulnerable people who can no longer visit the shops.
The Government has advised more than 1.5 million clinically vulnerable people to stay at home for 12 weeks to shield themselves.
Of those, there are thought to be around 400,000 people who don’t have a support network of family and friends to help them get shopping.
Online shopping sites have been flooded with shoppers all vying to win the few delivery slots on offer.
The largest supermarkets have been given access to the Government’s list of 1.5 million vulnerable people who don’t have any help to get their shopping, in a bid to prioritise their online delivery slots. The list of those who have been told to self-isolate for at least 12 weeks was drawn up by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in order to allow supermarkets to target the most needy with online deliveries.
If you class as a vulnerable person and don’t have a support network, you can sign up on the government website here.
But what are all the supermarkets doing to prioritise the elderly and vulnerable?
Tesco will prioritise orders for those who are on the Government’s list of vulnerable people and has said it will be in touch with them by email once it received the full list.
In the meantime, Britain’s biggest supermarket has increased its capacity for home deliveries and “click and collect” to 780,000 slots this week, up from 660,000 two weeks ago to reach more people.
It announced plans to increase this by another 100,000 over the coming weeks. It has already recruited 35,000 new employees over the past ten days, including 2,500 drivers and more than 5,000 pickers.
To give more time to pick online orders, stores that do online grocery delivery will open their doors a little later than usual, from 8am.
Dave Lewis, chief executive at Tesco, said: “We’re doing everything we can to increase the number of slots available and to support vulnerable people. Through a series of measures including more drivers, pickers and vans, we’ll expand the number of slots available each week; but this still isn’t enough to meet the demand. For this reason it is vital that customers who can come into stores and shop for themselves do so – so we can free up as many slots as possible for vulnerable people.”
Sainsbury’s is dedicating all home delivery slots to the elderly and vulnerable, according to a spokesperson who said the company has been experiencing “extremely high” demand.
The supermarket brand has also been working with the Government to prioritise the elderly and vulnerable and as of March 25, the supermarket had contacted 270,000 customers who had already given information that meant it could identify them as being within this group.
So far the company has served more than 450,000 elderly or vulnerable customers, according to a spokesperson at Sainsbury’s.
The customer care line is working at full capacity, a spokesperson said and the group has been able to give an additional 8,000 customers a day access to delivery slots over the phone and helped 170,000 customers who will now get priority access to online delivery. You can contact Sainsbury’s care line on 0800 636 262 or 0800 917 8557.
They said: “We urge anyone who believes they are eligible for this service to keep trying to reach our customer careline team, who will help them to book a priority slot. We are doing our very best to offer delivery slots to as many people as possible.”
The supermarket has also expanded its Groceries Online service, from 370,000 online slots available two weeks ago and plans to have increased it to 600,000 slots across home delivery and click and collect by April 19.
Asda has set up a dedicated team to work with the Government on the available data to support as many extremely vulnerable people as possible.
The group confirmed it received the list from the Government on April 3 and has since written to 91,000 of the most vulnerable who had an email address linked to an Asda customer account. Those in receipt of the email have been sent advice about claiming a delivery slot free of charge. The supermarket has expanded its delivery capacity to 700,000 slots a week, up from an initial 350,000.
A spokesperson for Asda said: “We’re doing all we can – and would continue to urge customers who are able to visit shops to think of how they can support others in their community and if they can shop for them – allowing us to maximise our online capacity for those who need it most.”
Morrisons has been making more delivery slots available for customers through its website but also through its store on Amazon Prime. Prime is a paid-for service that also give access to music, films and TV series.
For people who do not shop online, the supermarket is setting up a customer call centre for orders to be taken over the phone.
In order to simplify the process, the company has a new range of food parcels, including for vegetarians that can be delivered.
To sustain the growth in deliveries, Morrisons will be recruiting around 2,500 pickers and drivers.
Waitrose is offering elderly and vulnerable customers priority access to delivery slots on its website, but has acknowledged there won’t be enough slots to reach everybody.
In order to hold slots for those who are vulnerable open, the group has closed the website to new bookings.
The company has contacted all registered customers over the age of 70 who have an online account and a Partnership card. It is also looking at how it can reach those on the Government’s vulnerable list.
A spokesperson at Waitrose said: “We know we won’t be able to reach everybody straight away – as we simply don’t have the capacity to offer slots to all – however, we’re making every effort to reach as many of our customers as possible who need a home delivery.”
To allow the supermarket to cope with demand, it has asked for customers to wait for further information rather than getting in touch.
Ocado is requiring customers to log in or register before filling an online basket in order to identify the vulnerable and elderly.
This is done to form a priority access list and has meant that the firm has few slots for general release. Its support centres and drivers are identifying vulnerable customers and making changes to the way they operate to prioritise their needs.
Ocado is also part of the industry effort working with the Government to identify extremely vulnerable customers.
A spokesperson for Ocado said: “We are already delivering groceries to many elderly and vulnerable individuals, who have long represented a substantial proportion of our customer base. We expect to receive the government’s list soon and will cross reference it with our customer base.”
Iceland has made efforts to reserve all online delivery slots for the elderly, vulnerable and self-isolating by placing a pop-up window on the website that asks only people in these categories to place an order online.
The message asks those who are fit and well to go and shop in-store, so as to keep the slots available for those most in need.
Iceland has also received the government’s list of “extremely vulnerable” customers for England and Wales but is still waiting on a similar list for Scotland and Northern Ireland, a spokesperson confirmed.
The company has matched all email addresses on the list for England with its database of existing online customers and sent 60,000 emails to inform customers they will receive priority in online ordering.
A spokesperson for Iceland said the company has made substantial investments to increase online delivery capacity, including the recruitment of more than 3,000 additional store assistants and more than 1,000 extra home delivery drivers. This will increase the number of online delivery slots by 250pc, compared with pre-Covid-19 levels.
Iceland will release more online delivery slots daily from Tuesday 14 April.