TWO vans had already left the store and another was waiting outside ready to depart at precisely 9.56am.
The wheels of Sainsbury’s new online home delivery operation were well and truly turning and everything appeared to be running smoothly on day one on Wednesday.
Anyone would have thought the 25 staff taken on to look after that purpose-built department – managed by Katie Smith – had been doing it for years, rather than hours.
Staff had another reason to feel cheerful.
A total of 45 orders had been placed by 11pm the previous evening for delivery that day. Wendy Coleman, the assistant zone operations manager who was visiting Spalding to oversee the first day’s operations, said they are the first store within their ‘zone’ to have achieved that many orders on day one.
Readers who have shopped online before are already familiar with the routine: visit the website, type in your postcode – only about five per cent of the country is not covered – and then shop either by category or specifically for what you are looking for.
There should be no difficulty in finding something. Store manager Paul Bryan says the newly extended store – a total of 85 new staff were taken on as a result – has 30,000 lines, all of which are available to customers.
“We have probably one of the best food ranges in Spalding,” he says. “As part of the refurbishment we decided to put more food into the store and to get all the bells and whistles.”
What’s impressive about the Sainsbury’s home delivery service is that the store is the only supermarket to offer one-hour delivery slots, and we all know how frustrating it can be to be hanging around at home waiting for something to arrive.
While customers are busy doing things other than the food shopping, a dedicated team of ‘pickers’ is doing their shopping for them.
We followed Jade Roberts – shoppers may spot staff holding ‘guns’ or hand-held electronic devices that contain orders – to Aisle Four where she picked up a 1kg pack of spaghetti, non wholemeal, and the first of 100 items that would make up four orders.
Jade had a target time to finish of 10.10am, or an hour, and her hand-set directed her not only to the appropriate aisle, but indicated whether the product was on the left or right of the aisle and the correct shelf, as well as the weight and quantity needed of the product.
As she ‘picks’ each item, Jade puts it into a plastic bag (the store recycles them) in a plastic box she marks up with its drop number – in this case drop five to be delivered at 13.32pm. Jade then moved on to the pasta sauces for a completely different customer.
Items are then stored either in the chiller or freezer or in the ambient temperature of the online home delivery section waiting their turn to be loaded on to vans, which contain a freezer section, and delivered to customers.
To guarantee the one-hour delivery slot, timings are critical and all the vans contain satellite navigation equipment and are tracked.
The information goes to a computer in London which plans the drivers’ routes, working on timings gained from real-time experience.
So, for instance, if a driver is only able to drive at 40mph in a stretch of road where he should be able to drive at 60mph, the computer stores that information and allows extra time on the schedule the next time.
Similarly, if a customer lives 100 yards from the road, more time is added next time to accommodate that extra journey time. Local knowledge about road works and other delays are reported to head office so that information can be used for route planning.
Where the service is particularly useful is for people who are house-bound, such as the elderly and infirm, those who have recently had an operation or people with disabilities.
Wendy says these people are able to ask the driver to enter their home and put it in the kitchen for them, whereas other customers might prefer their shopping to be left at the door.
Naturally, there is a cost to online home shopping ranging from being free – order Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and spend over £100 for this – up to £5.50.
It’s also possible to place an order 21 days in advance, which is helpful for people returning from holiday, and customers naturally get their Nectar points.
Meanwhile the 9.56am delivery has left the depot with seven deliveries on board, due at the first customer’s house in Spalding at 10am – precisely.