NOTCOMICS: It used to be said that one in every eight pounds spent in the UK was spent in Tesco. It’s probably a little more now. Tesco is the largest supermarket in the UK, and also the largest online deliverer. Unlike the USA, the UK has taken to supermarket grocery delivery with a gusto over the last fifteen years, although recent events have boosted that rather. The supermarket has just reached its target of 1.2 million home delivery and collection slots every week, doubling their capacity in just six weeks. Far above supermarket rivals Asda, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Morrisons, Ocado and the Co-Op but demand is still outstripping supply, as Tesco prepare to deliver 1.5 million orders a week. Which means robots. Not delivering them – though that has been tried – but the sorting of them.
Tesco group chief executive Dave Lewis told the Guardian newspaper that the industry has now “bounced back” from the panic buying shock. “Our biggest day of the year is normally 23 December. We know when that is and have all year to plan for it. With no notice we had five days at that level and no chance to plan. In certain categories we were selling seven weeks’ worth of sales in five or six days. That pace in demand is unbelievable. The whole industry emptied the front end of the supply chain and then we had to recover. We’ve seen difficult things, but also humanity and acts of kindness I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. It has been hugely humbling”. While online supermarket shopping was common, it wasn’t the norm. But that is no longer the case.
It’s rival and early supermarket delivery rival Ocado already uses robot-driven warehouses to pick groceries, but as they don;t have stores of their own, this happens in their warehouses. But 90% of Tesco’s home deliveries are picked by hand in stores, which gave Tesco the ability to double in size. They hired 12,000 new pickers, 4,000 extra drivers and added 400 new vans. Refrigerated lorries were parked in Tesco car parks so shoppers could order online and then pick up their groceries in their own vehicle.
Before lockdown the retailer was just three weeks away from completing the build of its first mini robot-driven distribution hub in the back of stores, in partnership with the robotic supermarket specialist Takeoff. Once construction is allowed to restart, that facility could rapidly help deliver groceries ordered online more quickly and efficiently. Which means robots in the supermarkets themselves. Looks like I’ll have to pop by and see for myself.
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