After announcing an underwhelming 0.1% dip in like-for-like sales for the fourth quarter today, Asda’s Andy Clarke told the assembled journalists the retailer was in it for “the long game”. But is the cautious approach really the best option?

Although Clarke reiterated that Asda would invest £750m in new stores and in improving its current portfolio, he insisted Asda would not make a decision on entering the convenience market for a few years yet. We already know that Asda is trialling a new c-store format in Sheffield. Why wait another few years to make a decision?

It’s not as if its rivals are adopting a similar wait-and-see approach. Morrisons has just opened its 102nd M Local and Tesco and Sainsbury’s c-stores are everywhere. Even the beleaguered Co-op enjoyed a better Christmas thanks to like-for-likes at its convenience estate growing 3.2%, showing the value of c-stores over the precious fourth quarter.

If Asda like-for-likes don’t improve – and they could get worse, with Clarke predicting a “tough” first quarter – it would be strange if Asda continued with its “long-game” approach to convenience when everyone else is piling in and reaping the rewards.

Perhaps Asda is remaining coy. Clarke did admit yesterday that 97% of acquisitions in Asda’s property pipeline would be in the London and the South East – possible evidence of Asda shaping its convenience strategy. And maybe it really is focused on simply improving its existing estate. A trial of four Barclays bank branches in Asda stores starts next week together with a revamp of its big box locations (three test stores will open this year). It will also overhaul categories such as fresh produce and health and beauty.

Most significantly, it’s investing £1bn over five years to lower prices – and it needs to. Despite Clarke insisting yesterday that the retailer enjoyed a “good December” and had stolen customers away from the discounters, Asda was still down 0.1%. Kantar Worldpanel data shows Aldi and Lidl up 32% and 17.2% for the 12 weeks to 2 February. That leaves the sense that Asda’s slow and steady approach isn’t nearly urgent enough to stop consumers from continuing to migrate to the discounters. Perhaps they need to speed things up.