Morrisons could still be years away from developing a significant online food offer, it has emerged, as CEO Dalton Philips hinted at continuing reservations over the idea this week.

Announcing its results, Philips confirmed it was set to begin selling general merchandise through Morrisons.com in the final quarter of this year. He also said it would update the market on plans for online food towards the end of the 2012/13 financial year.

Philips said it currently had teams embedded in US online retailer Fresh Direct, the company in which Morrisons owns a 10% stake, in a bid to learn how to develop a profitable business model for selling groceries online. Its Kiddicare business is also growing fast. But he cautioned: “No one has found the balance between the investment needed in customer service and shareholder return.”

Based on these comments, a leading retail analyst suggested “online retail was likely to be peripheral for a long time at Morrisons. It seems the experience and learning in New York is not leading it to press the yes button.”