Covid-19: Ocado prioritises existing customers in wake of hike in demand

Online grocer Ocado has made several steps to deal with what it describes as “unusual” demand for its services, including prioritising existing registered customers over new shoppers.

The retailer’s website and app encountered performance problems over the weekend as a greater number of people tried to order online groceries, amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Covid-19, which has prompted some consumers to stay at home in self isolation.

In a holding message displayed when trying to enter the Ocado website over the weekend, and this morning (16 March), consumers were told “we will not be processing new customer bookings for the time being”.

Ocado added that it was “working hard to increase our delivery capacity”, and it placed customers into a virtual queuing system before they could enter the website.

The wider grocery industry has experienced a significant upturn in demand over recent weeks, with consumers evidently panic buying and stockpiling in the event of a potential UK lockdown, where parts of the general public may be requested to stay inside. In Italy, officials have issued blanket travel restrictions and advised people to stay at home in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed more than 1,800 people in the country, including 368 in the space of 24 hours over the weekend.

The virus orginated in China, and has caused several retailers, including Burberry and Adidas, to project significant losses to earnings. That is the tip of the iceberg, though, with many businesses across the world now temporarily closing stores and ceasing certain services and operations in efforts to protect staff and slow the spread of the illness.

Ocado, meanwhile, joined the major UK supermarkets in adding its name to an open letter to the public, published in national newspapers yesterday and today, calling for calm and reassuring that there is enough grocery supply as long as people do not stockpile goods.

“There is enough for everyone if we all work together,” said the letter, which was also signed by Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Lidl, Tesco, Aldi, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer, Asda, Iceland, Morrisons, and Costcutter.