Morrisons is developing a strategy for an online shopping service, The Grocer has learned.

Marc Bolland told delegates at a recent staff conference it was examining other supermarkets’ online strategies so it could avoid any mistakes when it came to offering its own service, a company insider revealed.

“We are looking into it,” the Morrisons chief executive reportedly confirmed. “However we won’t do it until we are happy that we know we are ready for it. We need to get it all in place to make sure if and when we do do it, we don’t make mistakes that others do.”

At this week’s agm in Bradford, he gave his first public indication that online was on the agenda, although he made it clear there was still a long way to go and that its financial viability remained a concern. “If it doesn’t make money, we are not going to go online,” he said.

Although Morrisons continues to remain tight-lipped over its plans, a senior industry source who works with the retailer told The Grocer it was working on an online strategy that was “short-term rather than long-term, so zero to three years”.

As the only one of the big four yet to make the move, Bolland has repeatedly been asked about Morrisons’ online ambitions. As recently as March, he suggested that it would be some time before it was in a position to even consider online.

“The internet is an opportunity, but once we have got people into stores, we will then take it a step further and look at the internet,” he said. “It is not a matter of time, it is a matter of having the right model and offer.”

One of the problems the retailer will have to tackle is how to translate its Market Street format to the web. “You cannot sell fish over the internet,” Bolland said recently, insisting his focus was on the store network.

But as TNS data shows, over the 12 weeks to 17 May, online grocery sales were up 20.3% to £795m, and industry experts agree it is a market that cannot be ignored. ” Morrisons’ lack of presence is the obvious elephant in the room,” said TNS communications director Edward Garner. “We now have a critical mass of broadband .”

Michael Ross, director of eCommera, added: “There is no longer a debate on whether online plays a part of the landscape. Morrisons needs to reinvent itself online.”

Morrisons might even benefit from having held back so long over online, he suggested. “The advantages of leaving it so late is technology is now cheaper, and there are more experienced people ,” he said.

“The danger is their customers who have wanted to shop at Morrisons online in the past now use a rival’s service. The longer they leave it the harder they are making it for themselves.”

Keeping things different

Marc Bolland has pledged to “keep things different” with a barrage of innovative price promotions over the next quarter. In its first quarter, Morrisons made 8,000 price cuts and ran more than 5,000 promotions in its Price Crunch campaign, which included a £4 breakfast deal taken advantage of by more than two million people. The retailer this week reported like-for-like sales excluding fuel up 8.2% in the 13 weeks to 3 May with total sales up 9.2%.