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 are set to be given access to the Government’s list of vulnerable people who don’t have any help to get their shopping, in a bid to prioritise their online delivery slots.
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 has 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 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.
By that date, it had also booked slots for 115,000 elderly and vulnerable customers.
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.
They said: “We are doing our very best to offer delivery slots to as many people as possible and would urge everyone to keep trying.”
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.
However, the group is not yet offering any priority deliveries as it has been unable to identify the vulnerable customers without the full Government list.
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 already 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.”