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The group – which on Tuesday announced plans to hire 3,500 staff and ramp up its online operations to help meet surging delivery demand – said like-for-like retail sales rose 5% in the six weeks since its year-end.
This marks a significant turnaround on the 1.4% drop seen in the year to February 2, and a 2.2% drop in the final quarter as the sector was impacted by Brexit and general election uncertainty.
Morrisons boss David Potts said the group was “facing into challenge”, but made a plea to shoppers to be considerate as he admitted there were signs of some strain in the supply chain due to “considerable” stockpiling.
The group has already rationed purchases per customer transaction on 1,250 items, such as toilet roll, cleaning products and some health and beauty ranges.
He said: “If we just buy what we need then there will be enough… enough for everyone.”
“It’s inevitable there is and will be strain in the further reaches of the supply chain,” he added.
His comments came as the group posted full-year underlying pre-tax profits up 3% to £408 million, with shares surging as much as 19% in early trade despite a decision not to pay a final special dividend payout due to current uncertainty amid the outbreak.
He said the group was increasing the food it makes to help meet demand, while its home delivery expansion plans will increase delivery service by 60%.
Morrisons bosses welcomed the Chancellor’s move to scrap business rate bills for all retailers, leisure outlets and hospitality sector firms.
But the group is also calling on the Government for a temporary relaxation of certain competition rules that restrict collaboration between retailers to help the industry meet demand.
Results showed group sales including a 0.6% rise in wholesale trade were 0.8% lower, having been 4.8% higher in the previous year.
In a joint statement, chairman Andrew Higginson and chief executive Mr Potts said: “We are currently facing unprecedented challenges and uncertainty dealing with Covid-19.
“Looking after our colleagues and customers is our priority, ensuring that we have a clean, safe place to shop and work.”
The group also revealed it has 83 teams installing protective screens to all of its checkouts across the chain to help protect staff from coronavirus.
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