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Coronavirus supermarkets latest: Asda launches virtual queuing system

The latest on grocery shopping during the COVID-19 lockdown, from online deliveries to opening hours

Coronavirus supermarkets latest: Asda launches virtual queuing system

Asda is trialling a new virtual queuing system as it plans to keep social distancing measures in place for the rest of the year.

The new system lets shoppers virtually join Asda queues from their phones, allowing them to wait in their cars instead of standing in line outside store entrances.

The supermarket has trialled the system in Middleton, near Leeds, and is planning to roll it out to other stores.

Asda has confirmed it expects social distancing measures to last for the rest of the year, even after lockdown eases.

Meanwhile, discount giant Aldi has teamed up with Deliveroo to try out a same-day delivery service. Launching in Nottingham, the trial enables customers to order from a range of 150 items including rice, pasta, milk, alcohol and ready meals via the Deliveroo app.

If it’s successful, Aldi reportedly plans for the service to be rolled out nationwide by the end of the year.

And Morrisons has said it will offer same-day grocery deliveries to Amazon Prime customers in the UK’s 10 biggest cities by the end of this month.

In this article, Which? explains everything you need to know about grocery shopping during the coronavirus crisis, including each supermarket’s current product restrictions, and opening hours for NHS workers and elderly shoppers.

You can scroll down to read the whole story, or use the links to skip to particular sections:

To find out what COVID-19 means for your rights, travel, health and lifestyle, check out the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.

Product restrictions and special opening hours by supermarket

We’re updating this alphabetised list of supermarket product rationing, opening times and special slots for NHS workers and vulnerable shoppers every time we learn something new.

Some stores are imposing additional restrictions on a localised basis – this list only covers nationwide policies.

Links take you to the Which? review of each supermarket.

Supermarket Opening hours Key workers Elderly/vulnerable shoppers Item restrictions
Aldi Mon-Sat: closing at 10pm;
Sun (Scotland): closing at 6pm
NHS workers, police and firefighters get priority in queues and also 30 mins early access before tills open on Sundays Mon-Sat: access 30 mins before store opens No restrictions currently in place
Asda Mon-Sat: 8am to 10pm (including former 24hr stores) NHS workers:
Mon, Wed, Fri from 8am-9am; browsing hour 9am-10am on Sun
Restrictions lifted on most products
Co-op Most stores open 7am-8pm Mon-Sat ‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am ‘Prioritised’ Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am Two of some items
Iceland Most stores open 9am-6pm Mon-Sat NHS workers: final hour of trading Mon-Sat Only in stores with ‘sufficient local demand’ Some items restricted, including antibacterial soaps and wipes
Lidl Varies by store – check Lidl’s store locator No blanket restrictions in place; customers can buy ‘usual household’ quantities at managers’ discretion
Marks & Spencer Varies by store – check M&S store locator First hour of trading on Tue and Fri First hour of trading on Mon and Thu Two-item limit on frozen food, home products, groceries and eggs
Morrisons Mon-Sat 6am-10pm; Sun 9am-4pm Mon-Sat 6am-7am; Sun 9am-9.30am Maximum of five of any item online
Ocado No new customers accepted at the moment No bottled water.
Sainsbury’s Mon-Sat 7.30am-10pm;
no change on Sundays
Mon-Sat 7.30am-8am Mon, Wed, Fri 8am-9am Three-item limit on the most popular items, including UHT milk, pasta and tinned tomatoes
Tesco (not Express stores) Reduced opening hours in 24-hour stores Tue and Thu 9am-10am; browsing hour before checkouts open on Sun; NHS and emergency services staff allowed to go to front of queue at all times Mon, Wed, Fri 9am-10am Three-item limit on high-demand items such as pasta, toilet roll and hand sanitiser. No multibuy offers except on Easter eggs. Max 80 items per online order.
Waitrose Daily essentials kept aside; priority at checkouts First hour of opening Three-item limit on pasta, rice, UHT milk, toilet rolls, antibacterial and cleaning products, and some frozen food

Less rationing in some stores as demand begins to ease

Shoppers are beginning to find it easier to get the items they want, according to Which? research, with demand beginning to return to normal levels.

At the height of the panic-buying spate at the end of March, 76% of people told us they’d experienced product shortages when shopping. This has now fallen to 43%, according to a survey we ran from 24-28 April.

The findings echo statements from trade bodies and supermarkets that demand for groceries and household goods is beginning to ease.

The majority of supermarkets have now loosened restrictions or lifted them altogether.

However, some products are still proving tricky to find. According to the Which? survey, 23% of shoppers have been unable to buy hand sanitiser or flour.

To tackle this flour shortage, Asda and Morrisons have reportedly started selling flour from their own bakeries.

On the other hand, only 4% struggled to find pasta and rice, falling from 18% at the start of April. And just 2% had difficulty buying toilet paper, down from 28% in March.

Supermarkets encourage social distancing and raise contactless payment limits

On 1 April the contactless card payment limit increased from £30 to £45, to enable more people to pay without using cash or touching pin pads.

This change has taken a while to be rolled out across shops, but Tesco and Waitrose are gradually updating their tills to handle the increased limit.

M&S has asked that customers use its ‘Mobile Pay Go’ checkout-free technology, where you scan barcodes with your phone and pay using a card or Apple Pay, where available. Sainsbury’s is encouraging customers to use its similar SmartShop app.

To help enable social distancing, which requires people to keep 2 metres apart from one another to avoid passing on the coronavirus, most supermarkets are operating ‘one in, one out’ policies.

Many have introduced checkout screens to protect staff and are increasing cleaning, encouraging customers to use contactless payments where possible, putting down floor markers, and closing some checkouts to enable greater distances between customers and staff.

Asda’s virtual queuing system, which it is currently trialling, allows shoppers to join the entry queue without having to stand in line. Both Asda and Aldi are asking customers to only touch what they intend to buy.

And Morrisons has rolled out ‘speedy shopping’ queues for customers who are planning to buy shopping that fits into a basket, as opposed to a trolley.

High demand for delivery slots

Despite the peak of demand having passed in many areas, online delivery slots can still be hard to come by. When we surveyed shoppers from 24-28 April, one in three were unable to get a delivery slot.

This was the same for those aged 70 and over, who have been advised by the government to stay at home: 31% of people in this age group said they couldn’t book a delivery.

On April 26, Environment Secretary George Eustice said supermarkets will have 300,000 extra delivery slots in coming weeks, bringing the total to nearly 3m. But he warned that this still might not be enough.

Retailers are trying to give priority to elderly and vulnerable customers for online delivery and have asked customers to shop in store if they’re able to.

Current online shopping situation by supermarket (alphabetical list)

Aldi does not offer a full online grocery shopping service, but it has launched a £24.99 essentials box for vulnerable and elderly people which can be ordered online for delivery in 3-10 days.

Asda says those who are self-isolating or have additional needs should fill out the ‘Other information’ section when placing their orders to tell delivery drivers where they would like their groceries to be left.

Its delivery capacity has increased from 450,000 to 700,000 slots per week.

Booths, which operates in the north of England, is delivering emergency food packs to vulnerable customers living within three miles of its stores.

It has also launched a click-and-collect service for those wishing to avoid shopping in store. Though you can make your order online, payment will be taken over the phone.

Iceland has increased its online delivery capacity by 250% by bringing over 100 of its larger Food Warehouse stores online. These outlets are typically two or three times larger than standard Iceland stores, and stock a wider range of goods.

Morrisons has turned off its app and has warned customers that they must make final edits to their online shopping basket no less than 72 hours before their delivery slot, or they could risk losing their order altogether.

If you’re unable to get a Morrisons delivery slot through the website, check Deliveroo to see whether your area is covered for an essentials delivery – which could bring a limited selection of Morrisons groceries to your door within as little as half an hour of you placing the order.

Or, if you’re a city-dwelling Amazon Prime customer, you might be able to benefit from a same-day Morrisons delivery. This service – originally available from 17 stores when it launched in March – is expanding to cover 40 stores across the UK’s 10 biggest cities by population, including London, Bristol, Cardiff and Edinburgh. Many stores have already launched the offering.

Ocado is not accepting any new customers at present, and is prioritising vulnerable people. It has warned shoppers who do manage to book a delivery slot to complete their order in one session, as it is ‘likely to bring order cut-off times forward’.

It has stopped its reserve service, which allowed customers to book the same regular time slot.

Sainsbury’s is offering priority delivery slots to elderly and vulnerable customers identified by the government shielding list.

The supermarket says it has increased its capacity to 600,000 slots across home delivery and click and collect.

Tesco has expanded its weekly delivery capacity to almost 1 million slots, an increase of 400,000 from six weeks ago. The supermarket says this will grow to 1.2 million in the next few weeks.

Waitrose has brought forward its cut-off time for online order changes to 12pm the day before your delivery is due, to help meet the high demand. It is prioritising vulnerable customers and says it will add 10,000 online click-and-collect slots by the end of May.

The supermarket is adding 5,000 delivery slots a week to its ‘Rapid Delivery’ service, which provides same-day delivery for up to 25 grocery items. This is only available from 28 stores in London and Hove.

Vulnerable people still struggling to get food delivered

The governments in all four UK nations are attempting to get food to clinically extremely vulnerable (shielding) people who need help, but they’re not always succeeding.

When Which? asked people to share their experiences and problems with getting food deliveries on our social channels, we were inundated with comments from over 1,000 people.

We heard countless stories from people in terrible situations, including extremely vulnerable people who have had to go out to buy food because they’ve been unable to book a delivery from any supermarket and don’t have anyone else who can help.

Which? is calling on the government to take urgent action in order to help resolve the situation.

Sue Davies, head of consumer protection and food policy at Which?, said: ‘It’s clear that the current system is not working for those who need it the most.

‘Without easily accessible and clearer information for these people, and stronger coordination between the UK’s central and devolved governments, the food industry, local authorities and local charities, there is a risk that many will go hungry during this pandemic.’

You can find out more with the following stories:

Which stores sell essential food boxes?

A number of supermarkets have started selling boxes packed with pre-selected ‘essential’ items such as bread, milk and pasta to help those who are self-isolating and unable to get a regular online delivery slot.

Links take you to the relevant page on the supermarkets’ websites.

  • Aldi: £23.99 inc delivery for 22 items
  • Asda: £30 inc delivery for a box typically containing 31 items
  • Marks & Spencer: £15-£40 for a range of boxes from basic veg to a selection of ready meals or meat
  • Morrisons: £22-55 for a range of boxes from fruit and veg to a luxury meat selection

Supermarkets innovate to try and meet demand

The big grocers have been innovating in a number of ways to try to help healthcare workers and elderly and vulnerable people to get the food they need.

Marks & Spencer has introduced more branded lines to its food ranges to boost availability during the coronavirus crisis. Usually M&S focuses on own-label products, but stores are now selling brands such as Rummo pasta and Tilda rice to help ensure availability of cupboard staples.

The upmarket food hall has also teamed up with BP fuel stations and Deliveroo to offer an ‘Essentials by Deliveroo’ service, which will deliver basic essentials to households in self-isolation without a delivery fee. Around 120 M&S franchises will be signed up across the UK.

Deliveroo has set up similar schemes with the Co-op, Morrisons and McColl’s, offering deliveries of daily essentials to those most affected.

Aldi is trialing a same-day delivery service with Deliveroo too, initially starting with the Daleside Road store in Nottingham before rolling it out more widely if it’s successful. Beware, though: the Sun has reported that, in addition to the £4.99 delivery fee, some items may cost more than you’d pay in store.

Sainsbury’s is expanding its e-bike rapid delivery service to offer one-hour delivery to millions of households across the country. The service, called Chop Chop, is due to be expanded to 20 UK cities by mid-June, making it available outside of London for the first time.

Aldi, Asda, M&S, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose have introduced pre-paid shopping cards which can be bought online and given to family members, friends or volunteers who shop for them.

Tesco is buying products including eggs, chicken and potatoes from suppliers who’d usually be selling to the likes of McDonald’s, Nando’s and chip shops.

And almost all the major supermarkets have set aside exclusive shopping times for healthcare workers, which we’ve listed further up this page.

Alternatives to supermarkets

If you’re struggling to secure an online delivery slot and don’t want to queue at your local supermarket, it’s worth exploring whether there are alternatives in your area.

Many local independent shops, farm shops, community shops and wholesalers are innovating and expanding their services, with some launching delivery services for locals.

If you’re unsure where to start, there are a number of websites you can search including localfooddrops.co.uk and wedeliverlocal.co.uk.

Shopping habits changing

Until recently, online supermarkets had a market share of around 7-8%, but the coronavirus lockdown has meant demand for this form of grocery shopping has skyrocketed.

In fact, the sector has grown by 33% since the crisis began, according to Mintel. The market research agency found that 37% of over-65s have increased the amount of online shopping they do since the outbreak started.

While supermarkets have struggled to build their online customer base in recent years, Mintel says many people who have been forced to start shopping online due to coronavirus may well continue to do so once the pandemic is over.

And it’s not just online that has been affected: in a Which? survey conducted between 24-28 April, 36% of respondents said they had shopped at independent and convenience stores more than usual since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, with 35% saying they’d shopped in supermarkets less than usual.

Community groups offer help

According to Mintel, 24% of people aged under 44 have been helping friends, family or neighbours with their shopping.

In many areas, residents have set up Facebook or WhatsApp groups to offer help to people who are vulnerable or running low on essentials – try searching for your local Mutual Aid group if you need help or want to get involved.

Some people have grouped together to place online orders, or added a few items for a neighbour, to save taking up extra delivery slots.

The neighbourhood hub Nextdoor is being used in a similar way, too, with users reaching out to offer help with shopping or even supporting those in self-isolation.

Which? advice on coronavirus

Experts from across Which? have advice on everything from staying safe and keeping in touch with loved ones to travel insurance rights and saving money on your household bills.

Click to see all the latest coronavirus advice and news from Which?.

This story was originally published on 9 March and is being regularly updated with the latest developments. Additional reporting by Ian Aikman and Ellie Simmonds.

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