Morrisons vows move on online shopping

Supermarket Morrisons today vowed to launch an online shopping operation within two years in a move to catch up with its web-savvy rivals.

The UK's fourth biggest supermarket said would offer grocery and non-food products but would take time to build from scratch.

As part of its online development, Morrisons - the only one of the "Big Four" grocers not to have a significant internet business - revealed it had invested £32 million in a 10% stake of a New York-based online grocer.

The announcement came as Morrisons posted a 13% increase in underlying pre-tax profits of £869 million in the year to January 30.

Morrisons is implementing a growth strategy which is focused on expanding its e-commerce business and moving into the convenience store market. It has earmarked £3 billion in investment over the next three years.

The supermarket floated the idea of launching its own website last year and today is the first firm commitment to realising that goal.

Last month, the company took its first major step to launching an online operation with the acquisition of internet retailer Kiddicare for £70 million.

The company said this move, along with the 10% "strategic" stake in American online grocer FreshDirect announced today, would help it launch its own website in the future.

FreshDirect was launched in 2002 and serves 600,000 customers in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The deal will see Morrisons chief executive Dalton Philips join the company's board.

Morrisons also revealed it would open three convenience stores, around 3,000 sq ft in size, in July under the name M Local. The shops will be located in Morrisons' heartland in the north of England, in neighbourhoods around the M62 motorway.

The company said the convenience business was the second-fastest growing part of the market. Rival models include Tesco Metro and Sainsburys Local.