Supermarket checks out shopping by phone

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The Independent Online

The age of supermarket shopping from home may finally be dawning as Sainsbury's becomes the first large store to offer a home delivery service.

The chain has handed over the franchise to a London-based home delivery company, Supermarket Direct, which will deliver weekly groceries to customers' homes at a day's notice. Dominick Scott Flanagan, joint chief executive of Supermarket Direct, said yesterday: "We are turning full circle. My grandmother never used to go to the supermarket because they didn't exist. She simply rang up her grocer and a young boy would deliver it on a bike. Grocery delivery is nothing new for the British public."

In the last three months, the firm has sent direct mail to160,000 homes in central and south-west London, and received 1,500 replies. It anticipates a turnover of up to pounds 150m from this area alone.

Customers can browse their 130-page colour catalogue and select any of the 2,500 Sainsbury's products, for the same price as they would pay in the retail outlet. To place an order the customer must simply pick up a telephone - or, by the summer, key into a computer - and quote each product's four- figure code. For a pounds 4 delivery charge, the goods will be delivered anytime between 8am and 10pm the next day.

Sainsbury's chief rival Tesco yesterday denied reports that it had experimented with home deliveries and abandoned the idea. "We now sell wine, flowers and hampers via Compuserve on the Internet and we also have a site on the Windows 95 part of the Internet," a spokesman said. "For the past three months we have been working in conjunction with Ealing social services on a home delivery service and the same scheme has been up and running in Gateshead for the past 12 years."

Other chains, including Asda and Somerfield, have in the past rejected home deliveries as unviable. A spokeswoman for Asda said: "One of the things we pride ourselves on is our personality. We have greeters so that as soon as you walk into the store you get the feeling of almost walking into someone's home. Our shoppers definitely prefer to come into the store."

A Somerfield spokeswoman said: "We are monitoring the market but home delivery is not something we are actually looking at at the moment." John Hollis, a partner at Andersen Consulting which is responsible for Smart Store Europe - a research and development centre in Windsor used by retailer and manufacturer boards - believes home shopping will be widely available by the millennium.

Studies show that 64 per cent of people claim they do not like going to the supermarket - the same proportion as profess an aversion to the dentist. Around 40 per cent said they would be interested in doing some form of direct shopping from home provided they could trust the products and delivery.

Sainsbury's insists that home deliveries will complement rather than compete with its supermarket outlets. A spokes-man said: "All it's doing is offering people a choice."