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UK supermarkets prepare for Christmas with COVID-19 measures in place

Suban Abdulla
·3-min read
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - 2020/10/12: Signage seen at the Tesco metro supermarket in Dean Street, which has a traffic light system to let shoppers know when it is safe to enter the store so it can adhere to social distancing restrictions. (Photo by Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Coronavirus social distancing rules mean that shops must cap the number of customers in their stores at any one time. Photo: Dave Rushen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Britain’s supermarkets are gearing up for the busy Christmas shopping period with incentives such as digital queueing systems and longer opening hours in place to keep shoppers happy amid COVID-19.

Coronavirus social distancing rules mean that shops must cap the number of customers in their stores at any one time.

Grocery stores will use traffic light systems, 24-hour opening times and door marshals to allow Brits to shop early during what is expected to be their biggest ever Christmas sales period.

With government measures to control COVID-19 infections limiting eating out and pub visits, shoppers are still expected to spend a record £12bn ($15.9bn) in supermarkets and convenience stores in December. This is roughly £1.5bn more than in 2019, according to analysts at Kantar.

Many shoppers could avoid going to their local supermarkets all together to avoid long queues and do their Christmas shop online instead. But, most Christmas delivery slots are already filled up and the huge increase in sales could put more pressure on brick and mortar shops.

Although the pandemic saw delivery capacity grow this year, less than 14% of groceries are bought over the internet.

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To prepare for the busy time ahead, more than 300 Tesco (TSCO) stores across the country will trade for 24-hours from 14 December to Christmas eve. While many other stores are expected to extend their hours by opening from 5am.

Tesco — Britain’s biggest supermarket chain — has also installed a traffic light system in majority of its stores to help regulate the number of shoppers.

Meanwhile, Waitrose is next week launching a queueing app, called Qudini, which allows customers to book shopping time slots remotely. Qudini allows shoppers to book a slot at more than 100 Waitrose stores to help prevent big queues in the peak shopping period.

Steven Hand, head of customer experience at Waitrose, said: “We’re doing all we can to make our customers’ grocery shop as safe, easy and convenient as possible. Our pre-bookable slots are just another way we’re doing this and will give peace of mind to those who like to plan ahead and avoid queues.”

Waitrose stores are also extending their opening times, remaining open until 11pm until 23 December. On Christmas Eve they will shut at 6pm, although some of the grocer’s Little Waitrose convenience stores will stay open until midnight.

Asda, which has been trialling Qudini since the spring, will also be using the queueing app. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s (SBRY.L) is enabling virtual queues via a different app in some shops.

The late opening times follow similar moves of other stores, including Sainsbury’s with the “vast majority” of Sainsbury’s outlets trading from 6am to midnight from 21 December. Additionally, the store is also offering members of its Nectar loyalty scheme extra points to shop before 13 December as it tries to persuade customers to plan ahead.

According to research by Kantar, worries about the last-minute Christmas rush have already prompted Brits to order festive food earlier than usual. Pre-orders for turkey are up 138% at Waitrose, with most of the available range now sold out. Sales of turkey were up 36% across the entire grocery market in November.

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