UK markets closed

Tesco warns 85% of customers will have to shop in store

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Social distancing markers at a Tesco Extra in Wembley, London. (PA)

Tesco is warning up to 90% of customers will have to shop in stores, despite public concern over the risks to shoppers and staff during the coronavirus pandemic.

The supermarket giant said on Wednesday it had invested heavily and rapidly in expanding its home delivery services for groceries. Its capacity has risen by 20% in the past fortnight, with 145,000 extra shopping slots.

But it warned: “Whilst we have already stepped up our capacity on grocery Home Shopping... and will continue to increase this, there is simply not enough capacity to supply the whole market.”

Britain’s biggest supermarket said it would continue to work with the government to offer priority delivery slots for “vulnerable people without a support network.” Between 85% and 90% of its shoppers will have to continue shopping in stores, it added.

Read more: Tesco shares slump on £925m coronavirus hit despite sales boom

The comments in its preliminary financial results suggest there is a limit to how far the public can follow official government advice to “use food delivery services where you can.”

With supermarkets now some of the only shops allowed to continue trading and stores busy, there is concern about potential exposure to COVID-19 for shopworkers and shoppers alike.

But stores have been transformed in a bid to limit risks, with limits on customer numbers, floor markings, ‘one-in, one-out’ policies and in some stores protective screens. Long queues of shoppers on the street all several metres apart are now a common sight outside supermarkets and convenience stores across the country.

Shopworkers’ union Usdaw has urged the public to wash their hands before shopping, keep their distance from staff and use contactless cards to further minimise the risks.

Tesco has also given its staff a 10% pay boost, with chief executive Dave Lewis praising their “unbelievable commitment” on Wednesday.

But it also said it had experienced “significant absence” levels among colleagues, forcing it to hire staff to replace workers on paid sick leave as well as meet surging demand. The company’s share price (TSCO.L) slid as it warned this and higher distribution and store expenses could cost up to £925m.

Read more: Food prices could rise as UK faces seasonal worker shortages

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