One of the most frequently asked questions listed on the help centre of Sainsbury’s website is: ‘why can’t I buy TU clothing online?’

Type ‘Sainsbury’s clothing’ into Google, and the first suggestion that pops up courtesy of Google Instant is ‘Sainsbury’s clothing online’.

And when Sainsbury’s commercial director and CEO designate Mike Coupe guest-edited The Grocer in February 2013, he admitted clothing was “the most requested thing that we’re not selling online”.

The standard answer to why the retailer doesn’t sell clothing online has always been: “We understand that some customers would like to buy clothing online so we are looking into solutions that may make this possible in the future.”

However, yesterday, Sainsbury’s revealed it is finally biting the bullet and taking TU online.

It plans to pilot a bespoke website for its TU womenswear, menswear and childrenswear clothing in August with an invited group of customers in the Midlands.

Sainsbury's TU maxi dress

Sainsbury’s TU clothing is now available online

It’s not surprising this move has been eagerly awaited by Sainsbury’s shoppers when you look at the numbers for clothing at Sainsbury’s.

It is the UK’s seventh largest clothing retailer by volume and 11th by value, according to Kantar Worldpanel. Last year, it sold clothes to more than 7.5 million customers, generating sales of £750m. And it is also the sixth largest UK retailer of childrenswear by volume.

So this move, although long overdue, is the right one for Sainsbury’s clothing arm, especially if in the future it is able to combine the offer with other features such as the click & collect service it is set to launch from seven London Underground stations this summer. After all, according to Sainsbury’s, over half the customers who buy general merchandise products on its website opt to collect their orders in store.

It’s also another sign of Sainsbury’s strategy to develop new channels and services that complement its existing supermarket business to increase customer loyalty.

Take its new website Sainsbury’s Food Rescue, launched in partnership with Google last week. That site gives shoppers tips and ideas on how to tackle food waste. It plays on Sainsbury’s strapline Live Well For Less, reinforces Sainsbury’s ‘value of values’ campaign, but also provides a crucial link between in-store and online.

With declining market share and sales among the big four, multichannel has never been more important for the multiples. TU online could prove to be strategic ammunition for Sainsbury’s in the future.