Ocado sales soar as stay-at-home shoppers plump for deliveries amid pandemic

Britain’s biggest online-only supermarket, Ocado, has seen growth double in March as the business is overwhelmed by orders from people staying indoors to avoid the coronavirus pandemic.

The retailer revealed on Thursday that it has seen a massive increase in trading since the three-month period ending March 1.

“The impact of higher basket values and order demand, amid growing public concern over the coronavirus, was limited in the (first) quarter, although this has since picked up significantly and growth in the second quarter is so far double that of the first quarter,” said Ocado Retail chief executive Melanie Smith.

The news came a day after Ocado temporarily shut down its website to give itself breathing space amid “unprecedented strain” as orders streamed in from new and old customers.

Ocado suspends website
Ocado suspends website

All supermarkets have faced a major upswing in demand for some items, with shelves emptied of toilet paper, many canned goods and cereals.

Ocado said it was working with suppliers to increase stock in some categories.

However, despite this major increase, Ocado sounded a cautious note, keeping its financial guidance steady for the year, as an increase now could give way to a fall later, as customers burn through their stockpiles.

“We expect the impact of forward-buying, however, to unwind at some point,” Ms Smith said.

She added: “I am tremendously proud of my colleagues and the outcomes we have achieved in the first quarter. I am confident that our resilience, teamwork and commitment will stand us in good stead to continue to deliver for our customers even with the current uncertainties.”

Ocado Retail’s revenue jumped by 10.3% to £441.2 million in the first quarter of the year, which Ms Smith said was largely not affected by the spread of Covid-19.

“However coronavirus unfolds, what is clear is that the fundamentals at Ocado Retail are strong,” she said.

The supermarket also said it is “on track” to switch over its partnership with Waitrose to instead deliver Marks & Spencer goods.

As part of the deal for Ocado to deliver for M&S, the high street giant took a 50% stake in its online peer for £750 million last year.

The average number of orders placed on Ocado jumped 10.2% to 343,000, while the average order value was up by just 28p to £110.24.