// Waitrose increases number of home delivery slots dedicated for vulnerable customers by 50%
// Follows a swathe of complaints from vulnerable customers unable to book a slot online
// Waitrose said that this week alone, 50% of its online orders were going to elderly or vulnerable customers
Waitrose has confirmed that it has increased the number of online delivery slots dedicated for vulnerable customers by 50 per cent after the grocer was swamped with complaints.
The upmarket grocer also said that half of its online orders this week would go to elderly or vulnerable customers.
The news comes after Waitrose said last week that it would set aside up to a quarter of its online grocery delivery slots for vulnerable shoppers amid the coronavirus crisis.
However, a Retail Gazette article about Waitrose’s plans to prioritise the delivery slots was swamped with comments from elderly and vulnerable customers complaining about difficulty in booking a slot online.
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Many customers said they struggled to find a slot within two weeks – or struggled to find any slots at all.
Others expressed confusion as to how they can register to be part of the priority service after receiving a letter from the NHS that confirmed their vulnerable status amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Speaking to Retail Gazette, John Baillie, 84, said he had filled an online trolley sufficiently to warrant a free delivery with Waitrose, but couldn’t book a delivery.
“When you try to checkout a message comes up to tell you about their policy to have slots available for the elderly and vulnerable – advice follows how you can tell them you are labelled as vulnerable, but no way to tell them you’re elderly,” said Baillie, who lives in Oxted with his 81-year-old wife.
“I have emailed their customer service twice to ask how to tell them our ages and each time just get a general information reply – no help at all. It seems to be checkmate.”
He added: “If you try on their app they show slots fully booked at least to early July.”
Baillee said he attempted Waitrose’s online delivery service after his regular grocer, Morrisons, struggled to keep up with demand and – like some other grocers – was forced to temporarily close their app.
“Now you have to join a queue even to get on to their main site,” Baillee said.
“Periodically you are told where you stand in the queue – often depressingly several thousand people before you.
“At least now an introductory notice to the queue is displayed which tells you, ‘you can edit your trolley but there are no delivery slots available’, so I no longer bother to join the queue.”
Unlike Waitrose though, Morrisons has not yet announced a plan to prioritise online delivery slots for the elderly and vulnerable.
However, just yesterday it announced a partnership with delivery giant DPD to provide next-day delivery of food boxes for those struggling to secure home deliveries in lockdown.
John Temple, 79, who lives in a small village in Essex, experienced a similar problem as Baillee.
“We have shopped with Waitrose for 40 years and cannot get on the delivery list for the elderly,” he told Retail Gazette.
“My wife is a paraplegic being in a wheelchair for 10 years, all we want is either a ration book or a fortnightly delivery.
“The annoying thing is [the grocers are] boasting that they are helping the vulnerable (a majority would have a carer) and the elderly but I can find no evidence of the latter.”
Les Watts, of Andover, had a similar experience with Sainsbury’s but he eventually got through.
However, the problem was never resolved when he tried Waitrose.
“Waitrose has no slots for myself and my wife because they say we are not registered on the government website,” he told Retail Gazette.
“My wife is on the shielded list and I am over 70. We both registered with the government and with the supermarkets.”
Both Baillee and Temple said they were fortunate enough to have neighbours who have been able to help, but rationing restrictions meant they were only able to purchase essentials.
Baillee said: “I’m sure there must be many that aren’t so fortunate and are forced to go to the stores for their shopping.
“This is clearly not helping to stop Covid-19 and putting the NHS under more pressure.”
Waitrose issued an apology after the issue was brought to its attention, and outlined measures it has taken to improve its online service for the elderly and vulnerable.
The grocer added that just this week alone, 50 per cent of its online orders were going to elderly or vulnerable customers.
“We’re very sorry to customers who are disappointed,” a Waitrose spokesperson told Retail Gazette.
“We’ve been working to increase our slots; by next week this will be by 50 per cent extra slots compared to usual, with 10,000 extra people-hours than usual each week picking Waitrose.com orders (nearly a 50 per cent increase), and hundreds of extra drivers.
“We’ve committed at least 25 per cent of our orders to elderly and vulnerable customers.
“We knew when we prioritised slots for vulnerable customers last week that we did not have enough capacity for all those who wanted a slot.
“However, we took the decision to reach some of those customers who needed help, rather than doing nothing.
“This was only the start of the process and we are actively looking at what else we can do, including how we can reach those on the government’s vulnerable list.
We’re doing all we can to give slots to as many people as we possibly can – especially those who need them the most.
“But we know we can still never have enough for demand. As an example of this, some days we have over 2 million visits each day to our slot booking page.”