Ocado pulls website amid coronavirus shopping frenzy

Online supermarket Ocado has closed its website and mobile app under overwhelming pressure from shoppers stocking up during the Covid-19 coronavirus crisis, and will not allow customers to edit existing orders or book a new one for “a few days”.

The retailer’s CEO Melanie Smith said it was taking the step of temporarily suspending new orders to allow it to complete essential work to shore up its distribution of products and delivery slots to make its service as fair and accessible as possible for customers.

“Like all supermarkets, we are working round the clock to keep up with high demand and make sure all of our customers get what they need at this time – especially those more vulnerable and in isolation,” she said.

“As a result, we have made a decision to temporarily close access to Ocado.com so you will not be able to edit an existing order or book a new delivery for the next few days.”

At the time of writing, all of Ocado’s delivery slots were fully booked for four days. Customers with deliveries booked for Thursday 19 and Friday 20 March can no longer edit their orders but will still receive their shopping. Customers with deliveries booked from Saturday 21 March onwards will be contacted with details of how to edit their orders. Ocado hopes to resume normal operations on 21 March.

“We are very sorry to cause any inconvenience. We’re managing a simply staggering amount of traffic to our website right now and more demand for products and deliveries than we can meet. Our first priority has to be to keep our service up and running and to play our part in feeding the nation,” said Smith.

“I’d also like to take this chance to thank our amazing drivers and warehouse staff who are working tirelessly to deliver groceries to as many people as possible in these uncertain times. Their dedication and hard work is truly amazing.”

Ocado’s website has been creaking under intense strain for several days and has already suffered a number of brief unscheduled outages thanks to the unprecedented levels of demand thanks to the spread of the coronavirus.

Earlier this week, the UK’s supermarkets issued a joint statement through the British Retail Consortium urging shoppers to refrain from panic buying and stockpiling items such as pasta, soap and toilet paper, and reassuring consumers that they are working flat out to keep both bricks and mortar and online stores stocked.

Food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need
Helen Dickinson, BRC

Panic buying more than you need is a selfish act that risks leaving people who are elderly, vulnerable, or self-isolating unable to access essential supplies. Many retailers are now introducing rationing as a result of bad behaviour by customers.

“Retailers are working incredibly hard to keep shops well stocked and deliveries running as smoothly as possible. In the face of unprecedented demand as a result of coronavirus, food retailers have come together to ask their customers to support each other to make sure everyone can get access to the products they need,” said BRC chief executive Helen Dickinson.

As an online-only store, Ocado has built a reputation as a cutting-edge digital innovator in retail. It has invested heavily in its back-end automated warehouse facility, and been a leader in rolling out customer-facing services such as ordering via Alexa on Amazon Echo devices.

The firm also supplies delivery services via an online grocery platform business to Morrisons and Waitrose, although it is in the process of winding its Waitrose relationship down and will be spinning up a new 50/50 joint venture with Marks and Spencer (M&S).

Currently scheduled for September 2020, the £750m partnership will see M&S-branded products made available on Ocado’s website and will give Ocado access to 12 million M&S customers, and seven million members of its Sparks loyalty programme.

Ocado had not responded for a request for further comment at the time of writing.

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