Covid-19: Ocado apologises to customers and provides coronavirus update

Online grocer Ocado has issued a customer apology and explained to shoppers the level of demand currently on its systems and services.

In a note signed by CEO Mel Smith and “all the Ocado Retail family”, the grocer revealed that since the Covid-19 coronavirus hit the UK and prompted more requests for home delivery and grocery goods in general, demand for its products has risen tenfold.

Ocado said its web traffic has been up to 100 times higher than usual levels, and enquiries into its contact centre are up by 500%. And since the coronavirus arrived, it added, “practically every one of the nearly 800,000 active customers we had at the end of 2019, no matter how infrequently they may have shopped previously, now wants to place at least one order every week”.

With families at home all week, the e-grocer said the average size of orders has grown more than 50%, meaning fewer orders can be picked and transported.

“We have delivered more food than ever, despite the levels of staff absence all businesses are currently experiencing,” the note explained.

“We also closed our doors to all new customers from early March. We have taken extraordinary measures to protect our frontline colleagues, including buying them tests for Covid-19 and guaranteeing them delivery slots.”

It added that the level of demand is “several times our current capacity”, and that even running warehouses 24 hours a day and seven days a week – with new colleagues to support – Ocado cannot deliver to more than 250,000 homes in any given week.

“No matter how hard we work, we simply do not have the capacity right now to meet all the demand we are seeing from existing customers, let alone new ones,” it added.

The business also acknowledged that it had not done a good enough job explaining its processes and actions during the pandemic.

Among the other measures undertaken by Ocado during these extraordinary times, include prioritising extremely vulnerable customers on the government’s shield list, as well as the retailer’s longest-standing and most loyal customers, and “our colleagues working on the frontline”.

People in this group have been emailed about how to shop, but for those who are not given priority access the remaining next day slots will now be publicised after 9pm each day. Ocado cautioned that this time may need to change in the future.

Ocado also said that Smart Pass holders can either get a refund or donate the equivalent fee to food bank charities if they did not receive their order in March. Ocado Reserved – a service that allows shoppers to ringfence a regular weekly or fortnightly delivery day – has also been temporarily suspended because the demand spike “disrupted the system”.

Underlining the unique situation UK grocery finds itself in, the note ended by advising potential new shoppers to look elsewhere for their goods.

“We are currently unable to serve any new customers and we encourage you to get in touch with your regular supermarket for your current grocery needs,” Ocado said.