Covid-19: Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda unveil more in-store and online changes

The UK’s three largest supermarket chains have announced new measures for consumers in-store and online, as they react to a coronavirus-impacted retail landscape.

Tesco has announced it will close its 24-hour stores at 10pm each evening in order to allow staff to restock depleted shelves overnight, while the CEOs of Sainsbury’s and Asda have written to customers to explain new operational changes. The measures have been taken in response to spikes in demand caused by panic buying, influenced by the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Sainsbury’s boss, Mike Coupe, emailed shoppers to say the retailer will set aside the first hour in all its supermarkets for elderly and vulnerable customers, and it will offer special measures to ensure this demographic is also catered for online.

“If you or an elderly family member, friend or neighbour would like to shop during this hour, please check online for your local supermarket opening hours,” Coupe wrote.

“For all other customers, supermarkets will open one hour after the published opening time. I hope that you can respect this decision and will work with us as we try our best to help those that need it the most.”

From Monday 23 March, Sainsbury’s online customers who are over 70 years of age or have a disability will be given priority access to online delivery slots, and the retailer plans to contact these customers in the coming days with more details.

An expanded click & collect service will be offered from next week, too, with more collection sites added across the UK

From tomorrow (19 March), Sainsbury’s will also close its cafes and meat, fish and pizza counters in supermarkets, in an effort to free up warehouse and lorry capacity for more essential products, and free up time for store staff to focus on shelf replenishment.

Like other retailers, including Boots, Asda, and Aldi, Sainsbury’s is rationing the number of items of certain products people can buy in each visit. They can only purchase a maximum of three grocery products, and a maximum of two on the most popular products including loo roll, soap and UHT milk.

Asda CEO, Roger Burnley, wrote to customers on Tuesday, saying demand for online shopping had increased, and confirmed delivery drivers all have sanitiser spray in their vehicles to try and maintain hygiene levels. He said to customers: “If you can be flexible in your delivery and collection time, that would be fantastic.”

Burnley added: “If you do need to self-isolate for any reason, I’d just ask that you let us know of your situation in the ‘Other information’ section when placing your order.

“Let us know where you’d like your order to be left.”

Northern grocery chain, Booths, is also encouraging its wider customer base to shop outside 9:30-11am, giving the elderly and vulnerable priority at this time.

Morrisons, Iceland, Co-op, Waitrose, and Ocado have announced their own measures to adapt to these unprecedented times, and against a backdrop where official government and medical advice is to reduce social interactions and stay at home where possible to avoid spreading Covid-19.

“As we work to feed the nation, we are also focusing all of our efforts on getting as much food and other essential items from our suppliers, into our warehouses and onto shelves as we possibly can,” said Coupe, who like other major retailers have seen online orders and on-shelf product availability disrupted by the increase in demand.

“We still have enough food for everyone – if we all just buy what we need for us and our families.”