Tesco is creating 16,000 permanent roles to support the recent “exceptional growth” in its online business.

The new jobs are in addition to the 4,000 permanent roles that have already been created by the supermarket since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Amid continued strong demand in the online grocery channel, Tesco is recruiting 10,000 pickers to assemble customer orders and 3,000 drivers to deliver them. There will also be a variety of new permanent jobs in the retailer’s stores and distribution centres.

Tesco expects most of the roles to be filled by staff who joined it on a temporary basis to meet surging demand at the start of the crisis. Any remaining vacancies will then be recruited externally.

Before the pandemic, around 9% of Tesco’s sales were online. This has now increased to 16% with the retailer serving nearly 1.5 million customers a week online compared to around 600,000 prior to the outbreak. Tesco is expecting its online sales to grow to £5.5bn this year from £3.3bn in the previous 12 months.

Following the recent dramatic increases in shopper numbers and bigger order sizes, online is on track to be the fastest-growing channel in 2020 with it overtaking hypermarkets in value terms.

Jason Tarry, Tesco’s UK & ROI Chief Executive, commented: “These new roles will help us continue to meet online demand for the long term, and will create permanent employment opportunities for 16,000 people across the UK.”

Clive Black, retail analyst at Shore Capital, said Tesco’s move suggests it does not think the online grocery market is going to revert back to the pre-coronavirus levels.

The strong growth is expected to help the supermarket’s make their online operations more profitable. “As the market expands, economies of scale start to come into play,” said Black.

He emphasised that the efficiency of deliveries is improved because drivers can serve customers who are closer together, and supermarkets can make better use of systems, staff and equipment: “You put all those things together and the industry goes from marginally loss-making to marginally profitable.”

Following Amazon’s introduction of free delivery on grocery orders for members of its Prime scheme, Tesco recently suggested that it may launch a similar offer for shoppers who have signed up to its Clubcard Plus offer. However, Black stated that there is no need to offer money-off coupons or free delivery to attract new customers in the current climate where demand is so strong.