As supermarkets juggle with online, Which? demonstrates disparities in UK lockdown responses

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett November 9, 2020
Summary:
How are UK supermarkets resonsding to the second lockdown? That depends on which brand you're talking about and where you live.

Regular readers will know that we have been following digital trends in retail for the last seven years. We've watched as well-known brands have sometimes failed, sometimes succeeded in making the move towards digital technologies.

Only last week, Derek duPreez noted that Sainsbury’s job losses and store closures signal rapid digital change. But in all the machinations around this topic, some UK supermarkets are doing better than others in providing services for key workers and those who are considered vulnerable during the current UK lockdown. The following chart from Which? explains

priority hours supermarket which
Priority shopping course by supermarket (via Which?)

Shops were working normally in Scotland and Northern Ireland at the time of the report (4th November 2020.)

All of the supermarkets say that delivery slot times have improved with all reporting increased capacity since the first lockdown in March. At that time, there was a wide disparity in available slots depending on where you are located and the density of stores in your local area.

In the Yorkshire region for example (where I live) slots were booked weeks in advance and sometimes completely unavailable unless you were on the 'vulnerable' list. Supermarkets say they have improved the online experience but again, there is a wide disparity in what you can and cannot do online.

Low-cost supermarket Aldi for example only offers click and collect from 18 stories while Morrisons has teamed with Amazon for delivery but only in a handful of locations. Amazon Fresh is only available in certain parts of the southeast of the UK and London. The Coop is offering limited delivery from a curated set of products, but again, delivery is not universally available. 

Separate from the supermarkets, Which? reports that local producers have stepped up or started delivery services. We have for example discovered that local farmers offer good selections of fresh produce with delivery slots to suit most households. The extent to which those efforts translate into long-term customer loyalty is a different matter. Local providers can make the best of unique offerings such as high-quality heritage breeds or farm processed products but they can't compete on supermarket prices. 

My take

Supermarket shopping, once an egalitarian endeavor has taken on something of a 'haves and have not' dimension. While it is understandable that retailers are experimenting to discover the optimum mix of online and offline, it's not possible to say which of the well-known UK brands is offering an optimal experience. However, the shift to online, accelerated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic looks here to stay. As duPreez quoted Simon Roberts, Sainsbury CEO 

COVID-19 has accelerated a number of shifts in our industry. Investments over recent years in digital and technology have laid the foundations for us to flex and adapt quickly as customers needed to shop differently. Around 19 per cent of our sales were digital this time last year and nearly 40 percent of our sales are digital today.

Those are big numbers. 

The good news is that the current shift in trends opens up fresh opportunities for those producers who offer a differentiated service or can source products that are not available in today's supermarkets. In March, local farmers in my area started offering a limited selection of fruit and vegetables at a fixed price. Today, some of those same farmers offer a full range of fresh foods. Want game? Try the Wild Meat Company. Want slabs of pork to cure your own bacon (as I do)? Try Grid Iron Meat Company. These niche suppliers look set to thrive - and that's a good thing.