Fortnum's foul-up cancels Christmas dinner for thousands

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The Independent Online

Fortnum & Mason, the upmarket London department store, left thousands of its customers without food supplies over Christmas after it was overwhelmed by internet orders.

The grocer to the Queen and purveyor of expensive hampers discovered only a few days before Christmas that it would not meet all its orders and failed to notify many of its customers that they would not be receiving deliveries.

Customers of Fortnum & Mason, a haven of high teas and cucumber sandwiches in Piccadilly, are used to high-quality service from the 300-year-old shop, but many jammed the firm's switchboard to complain about shoddy treatment.

Ken Lillie, a Fortnum & Mason account holder, had to cancel his Christmas Eve party because the shop failed to warn him of delays. Mr Lillie, 57, who lives in Saltdean, near Brighton, only found out his £200 order of salmon, ham, jam, tea, torte, cake, chocolates and champagne had been delayed after he called the shop.

Mr Lillie, who placed the order on 9 December via the Fortnum & Mason website, said: "When I did eventually get through to someone at the store they apologised but said there was nothing they could do ... they said they had a huge backlog because of the volume of orders and that I was one of many hundreds who wouldn't get their food delivered before Christmas.

"People who shop with Fortnum & Mason pay a bit more and expect a bit more in terms of service. It is unbelievable that they were not telling people [about the delays]. I should have been notified. It was pure chance that I found out.

"If I had not phoned them I would have woken up on Christmas Day without my food... in the end I had to leap in my car and drive to town to find supplies." He has since cancelled his order and been told he will receive vouchers in compensation.

A spokesman for Fortnum & Mason, said: "We offer our deepest sympathies and utmost regret to customers. We have let some of our customers down ... once we realised we could not meet the demand we tried to call all our customers but we could not get hold of everybody.

"In the past two weeks we dispatched 250,000 orders and we believe that less than 1 per cent were not delivered. We are now dealing with it on a case-by-case basis and we will compensate customers."

In the two weeks before Christmas, the shop, which is undergoing a £24m overhaul, took 50 per cent more mail orders and 75 per cent more online orders than last year. Visitor numbers to the shop also rose by 25 per cent.

Some customers who had not received their food by Christmas Eve called the shop and faced telephone delays of up to an hour before they were put through to the customer services department. Many were told their supplies would not be sent until after Christmas and they would not get them until 28 or 29 December.

Fortnum & Mason was not the only store to take a record number of online orders in the run-up to Christmas this year. Tesco and Sainsbury's were operating at full capacity and Ocado, the online arm of Waitrose, turned away 10,000 customers in one week.