Waitrose, a supermarket company, is opening (7 May) a six-acre Customer Fulfilment Centre in Enfield, North London, to double its online grocery orders in the capital by September.

The site is creating 370 new jobs, building to 850 when at full capacity, by which time it will be adding 13,000 weekly delivery slots for London customers.

The centre is part of a £100m investment in its online business, in preparation for Waitrose.com becoming the only place its customers can buy Waitrose food online from September of this year.

However, since announcing in February a national expansion campaign, Waitrose.com has significantly further accelerated its plans to try and work towards meeting the extreme demand for online shopping from the coronavirus pandemic.

The service has increased by more than 50% to more than 120,000 customer orders per week. The amount of people-hours picking and delivering Waitrose.com orders has also increased in recent weeks, by more than 1,300 full-time equivalent roles.

Priority is being given to vulnerable and elderly shoppers, with 35% of orders last week going to shoppers Waitrose is able to identify as being in this group. While doing all possible to respond to the much-increased need for slots, demand is still far outstripping the number Waitrose can reach.

The Enfield centre will work alongside an existing centre in Coulsdon, which delivers Waitrose.com customer grocery orders across the South London area, and a network of 14 delivery shops in the capital, which together deliver to all London postcodes. Forty shops in London have also in recent weeks become grocery collection shops, for customers to click and collect orders. Across the UK, a network of 183 shops reaches more than 90% of postcodes.

Waitrose.com Director Ben Stimson said: “Before coronavirus, Waitrose.com was already going through a period of significant expansion, with investment across our infrastructure and website. Enfield was planned as a big part of our expansion plans – but in fact, it is now also helping us respond as best we can to the huge demand for online slots – especially from our most vulnerable customers.

“One thing that recent weeks have highlighted to us is the importance of online retail to vulnerable people. Our shops have always been firmly rooted in their communities but through these challenging times, our Partners working in shops and delivering grocery orders have been at the forefront of trying to respond to these needs in a way we couldn’t have imagined. We’re extremely proud of Partners across the country and the vital role they’re carrying out.”

Work on the new site began last October, with a focus on incorporating planet-friendly measures wherever possible – 95% of waste removed was recycled, reclaimed fixtures and fittings were installed, and a rain-harvesting system was created so the 100 delivery vans can be cleaned using rainwater.

General manager of the Enfield centre, Paul Shanks, says ‘There has been a Herculean effort across many teams in preparation for launch – the team has worked tirelessly through such unprecedented times, reacting, embracing and evolving to ensure we remain on track. To have played a part in that has been great.’

In addition to its work to expand its Waitrose.com, the retailer has also more than trebled the size of its Rapid service to 7,000 orders per week, with at least 40% of slots reserved for vulnerable customers. The service offers up to 25 products for delivery within two hours.

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