Supermarket websites under pressure after lockdown surge in demand

Holly Williams, PA Deputy City Editor
·3-min read

Supermarkets have seen websites come under pressure after shoppers raced to book deliveries ahead of the new national lockdown in England, as figures showed a record December for grocers.

The major chains experienced problems with their apps and websites on Monday evening after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the third English lockdown would begin on Tuesday.

Sainsbury’s app is said to have gone down temporarily last night, while Tesco also experienced issues with its online operations and Morrisons and Ocado were forced to place shoppers in virtual queues.

Websites appeared to be running largely as normal on Tuesday, but with little availability left for home delivery slots.

Sainsbury’s said it had temporarily limited access to its online groceries service on Monday night to “manage high demand for slots and updates customers were making to existing orders”.

Tesco said bosses were holding discussions to review the item limit for online baskets, as well as product restrictions across popular items such as toilet rolls, antibacterial wipes and pasta.

The sector has been flooded with demand amid tightening restrictions over the past two months, with industry figures showing a record month for supermarkets in December.

Britons spent £11.7 billion in supermarkets throughout December in their busiest month ever, with trade boosted by the closure of restaurants, bars and cafes across most of the UK, according to Kantar.

The data revealed the record December helped sales jump 11.4% to £32.7 billion over the 12 weeks to December 27.

Morrisons also reported festive trading figures showing sales soared 9.3% year-on-year in the past three weeks, which included the key Christmas trading period.

Like-for-like sales were up 8.5% over the nine weeks to January 3 and were up 8.3% in six months to the same date, helped by strong sales online and increases in its wholesale business.

Kantar said supermarket trading was boosted by the £4 billion that would normally have been spent on food and drink outside the home over the Christmas season.

The report also showed online grocery sales accounted for 12.6% of total spend in December, compared with 7.4% in 2019.

Online specialist Ocado ended the year as the country’s fastest growing retailer after a 36.5% sales surge over the festive quarter.

Fraser McKevitt, head of retail and consumer insight at Kantar, said: “December is always an incredibly busy time for supermarkets, but take-home grocery shopping is usually supplemented by celebrations in restaurants, pubs and bars – with £4 billion spent on food and drink, excluding alcohol, out of the home during the normal festive month.

“This year, almost all those meals were eaten at home and retailers stepped up monumentally to meet the surge in demand.”

He added that the port disruption ahead of the Brexit deal deadline meant shoppers brought forward their Christmas shopping, with Monday December 21 the busiest shopping day of the year.

“Fifteen million households – more than half the entire population – visited a grocer at some point that day and spent a collective £819 million,” he said.

The data showed that among the Big Four players, Morrisons was one of the Christmas winners with a 13% rise in sales over the festive quarter and an increase in market share to 10.4% from 10.3%.

Tesco’s market share slipped to 27.3% from 27.4%, but sales rose 11%.

Sainsbury’s saw sales jump 16% to £5.2 billion, though like Tesco, its market share dropped to 15.9% from 16.0%.

Asda’s market share fell to 14.3% from 14.8% as sales lifted 7.8%.