As it gears up to begin selling online, Morrisons’ investment in its website and digital marketing is already proving a hit with customers.

The retailer enjoyed a huge spike in traffic to its website last month, according to the latest figures from online retail analysts Experian Hitwise, seen exclusively by The Grocer.

Morrisons was the second most-visited food and drink site in January, commanding 13.4% of all traffic to food and drink retailers’ websites and outperformed only by Tesco.

This was a massive improvement on December, when it attracted just 5.6% of visits, leaving it fifth behind Asda, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose as well as Tesco.

The spike was largely driven by Morrisons’ Free Shopping competition, which invited shoppers to visit the website and enter their till receipts to find out if they had won the value of their shopping.

But the retailer said it was part of a general push to communicate better with its customers. “We’re obviously very pleased about the increasing popularity of our website,” said Morrisons head of online marketing Mel Cheung-Turner.

“We have made a number of innovations over the last 12 months to make it more useful and user-friendly and we are pleased to see this is paying off. Our ‘Free Shopping’ promotion was really successful at encouraging customers to see what had to offer.”

Morrisons had developed an improved mobile site and launched Android and iPhone apps recently to make it easier for customers to visit the site, added Cheung-Turner.

“We’ve also made the site more informative, with more information about promotions and our fresh food offer,” she said. She refused to be drawn on whether the improvements to the site were in preparation for Morrisons launching a non-food trading platform and, eventually, an online grocery offer.

CEO Dalton Philips is expected to provide an update on Morrisons’ online plans alongside the retailer’s preliminary results next month. Having bought online operator Kiddicare and a 10% share in US online grocer FreshDirect last year, Morrisons is expected to start selling non-food items through its website this year.

Despite hiring Simon Thompson, Apple’s former internet store director, as MD for for food, it is not expected to launch an online grocery offer until next year at the earliest.