Shoppers at Marks & Spencer can now jump the lockdown supermarket queue by booking a timed slot to enter the chain’s food halls.
With lockdown two starting on Thursday amid plunging temperatures, dismal scenes of supermarket queues and already booked out online delivery slots look set to become all too familiar once again.
Dubbed ‘Sparks Book and Shop’, M&S shoppers with or without a Sparks loyalty card can now visit its website and book a guaranteed time slot to shop at their local store without having to queue.
After a trial across 80 stores in Scotland and Wales, the scheme is now available to use across all M&S’s 566 food halls and larger stores containing food halls.
Have you booked? Shoppers at Marks & Spencer can now jump the lockdown supermarket queue by booking a timed slot
Start times are allocated in 30-minute intervals and on arrival, customers, which are limited to a maximum of two per household, will ‘check-in’ with ‘hosts’ at the front of the store.
Once in the food hall, M&S shoppers will be greeted with the familiar new normal for shopping, namely perspex screens at tills, hand sanistiser stations and a myriad of social distancing signs and floor markings.
M&S said the appointment supermarket shopping service was a first in British retail.
Dominic Roberts, a store manager at M&S in Pontardulais, said: ‘At a time when it’s been hard to plan ahead, customers like the certainty of being able to book a slot and we’ve received great feedback about the service – especially as restrictions have increased.’
The move may prove popular for those who like to do a physical shop rather than head online to get groceries in.
Supermarkets like M&S look set to benefit once again from lockdown, as swathes of retailers deemed ‘non-essential’ are forced to close their doors in the run up to the busy Christmas period.
M&S’s food arm has also been buoyed by its recent tie-up with online-based Ocado, which means it will be able to profit from the clamour for online grocery deliveries this Christmas.
But, ahead of the group’s latest financial results being published tomorrow, City analysts expect M&S to have made a loss of about £60million in the first six months of its financial year because of the major sales hit suffered by its clothing arm during the three-month spring lockdown.
Lockdown two sparks stockpiling
In some supermarkets, scenes reminiscent to those seen at the start of lockdown in March are starting to emerge again, with shelves stripped of in-demand items like pasta, toilet roll and tinned food.
Tesco, Aldi, Asda and Morrisons have this week urged customers not to stockpile food during the second lockdown and issued guidance on queues and delivery slots.
In a bid to control the number of customers in their stores at any given time, discount retailer Aldi and supermarket giant Asda have both implemented traffic light systems at the entrances of its sites.
Aldi is also insisting that stores are replenished more than once a day, meaning shopper stockpiling is not necessary.
A message on Aldi’s website states: ‘To ensure there is enough for everyone, we will occasionally place purchase limits on certain products that are high in demand.’
Last week, Sainsbury’s assured shoppers they had a good supply of their stock but said they could not rule out buying limits at a later stage as customers rushed to the stores to bulk-buy items.
Sainsbury’s said: ‘We aren’t currently restricting products. Customers can continue to shop safely and with confidence in our stores, where they will see we have good availability.’
Tesco is still restricting purchase numbers for a small number of items. It says on its website: ‘As our stock levels are starting to return to normal, we’re removing purchase limits on most of our products.
‘On some products such as toilet roll, alcohol, pasta, and hand sanitisers, we’ve kept these limits until we’re fully stocked up again.’
Ocado delivery slots also remain in high demand, with the online supermarket saying it was ‘selling out faster than usual’.
Tie-up: M&S’s food arm has been buoyed by its recent tie-up with online-based Ocado