Sainsbury's joins click-and-collect shopping revolution
Online shopping, as one of the better-performing parts of the market, has become a key battleground for all of Britain's "big four" supermarket chains as they grapple with the rise of discounters Aldi and Lidl.
British shoppers are increasingly opting for the convenience of store collection when they shop online because they don't have to wait at home for a delivery.
Sainsbury's launched its first Click & Collect service on Tuesday at its Farnham store in southern England. A further 20 stores will go live in the next two weeks and the company is targeting 100 by the end of the year.
Yet Sainsbury's is still playing catch-up. Market leader Tesco and No.2 Asda started click-and-collect services in 2010 and 2011 respectively. Tesco now offers the service from more than 300 of its 2,650 stores while Asda offers it from all its 592 stores.
Both are also experimenting with non-store collection points, such as at London Underground stations, petrol stations and schools.
Morrisons, Britain's fourth-biggest supermarket chain, was late to move into online grocery shopping and does not offer click-and-collect.
Sainsbury's, which trades from 1,200 stores, said collection slots will be free, though they are subject to a minimum spend of 20 pounds ($31).
Its 18-year-old online business brings in annual sales of 1 billion pounds, 5 percent of total sales.
Until early last year Sainsbury's had been outperforming its main rivals, reporting nine unbroken years of sales growth with a strategy focused on own-brand products, the quality, provenance and ethical credentials of its food and on expanding its fast-growing convenience and online businesses.
But it has now posted four straight quarters of falling sales amid an escalating price war and Chief Executive Mike Coupe has cautioned that he expects underlying sales to fall for the next few years.
Shares in Sainsbury's, down 19 percent over the past year, were up 1.3 percent at 275.5 pence by 1538 GMT.