Chateau Tesco offers on-line plonk

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The battle of Britain's biggest grocery retailers is about to take a new hi-tech turn. Sainsbury and Tesco, already locked in a fierce battle on the high street, are to take their campaign to the Internet.

On Monday Sainsbury launches its Wine Direct service on the Internet, the first UK food retailer to flog plonk on the information superhighway. Not to be outdone, Tesco is launching a trial next week which will enable shoppers to buy their wine through Compuserve, a private on-line information system.

Suddenly shopping looks a lot easier. Instead of battling back from Oddbins with bottles clanking in a distressed carrier bag, surfers of the net will be able to take delivery of a case of Chateau Tesco without leaving their terminal. This could be just the beginning. Sainsbury says if the trial proves successful it could be extended to other groceries: "I don't see why not," said a Sainsbury spokesman yesterday. "It wouldn't work with perishable items such as cheese or continental meats but other groceries would be possible."

Sainsbury launched its Wine Direct scheme in November as a standard home delivery system. With the service on the Internet, users key in http://www.j-, then click on the Sainsbury page.

Users can browse though the information on the 40 wines on offer, before ordering by computer. However, the financialtransaction is conducted by phone as hackers can scoop up credit card numbers floating around on the system and shop at someone else's expense.

Delivery costs £3.95 for a single case, but is free for two or more cases. For users hooked up to the Internet (monthly subscription: £10-£20m a month) the cost is the same as a local telephone call.

Sainsbury is not the first to turn to the Internet. TJ Lewin, the upmarket central London shirt retailer, already has a page selling shirts direct on the system. Lovers of Laura Ashley floral frocks can find them on the system, but only a Californian store is listed.

Safeway says it has considered using the Internet but has no immediate plans. Marks & Spencer looks a little off the pace in the hi-tech race. As a company spokesman said: "We haven't even got electronic mail yet."

The retail revolution, page 16