Tesco announced today (23 August) it is joining a number of French retailers and becoming the first UK retailer to launch a click-and-collect, or “drive-thru” grocery service.

The retailer said it would run the trial from its Baldock Extra store in Hertfordshire before a decision is made on rolling it out to additional areas.

The company said the move will help “busy customers who want their shopping picked and back, but who don’t have the time to wait at home for delivery”.

French retailers Auchan, Leclerc, Intermarche, Casino and Carrefour have all been experimenting with this format for a number of years, both to reinvigorate lacklustre sales in their hypermarkets as well as attempting to find a more cost-effective yet attractive alternative to online delivery.

The trials have not been limited to Europe, with Sears making quiet progress with its MyGofer format which is now being operated through around 220 Kmart stores in the US.

Of the trial, Verdict consultant Simon Chinn said: “In the UK, Tesco will have the first mover advantage with the service and if the trial in Hertfordshire proves successful we expect Tesco to progressively roll out the scheme to additional stores across the country.”

However, as no online grocer has yet made a clear profit from their food operations, despite Tesco claiming a profit from its dotcom operations (which includes non-food), cynics will suggest this is simply another attempt to foolishly try to squeeze money out of an unprofitable business model.

The cost to Tesco of collecting groceries from the shop floor for customers is around GBP4 per order. However, the company will only charge shoppers a GBP2 pick-and-pack fee. Critics will see this discrepancy as the concept’s most obvious flaw.

Tesco also will continue to struggle with the other issues grocery retailers face when selling online, such as reduced basket size through fewer impulse purchases.

The French retailers have invested heavily in creating a streamlined customer experience that looks somewhere between a fast-food drive-through and a petrol station. Many of them offer kiosks where even unprepared customers can place their orders and those who have pre-ordered can notify store staff that they’re ready to collect their orders.

By contrast, Tesco has merely set up a delivery van outside the store which will hold customers’ orders for a two-hour window. It did say that if the trial is successful it will “explore which stores could be adapted for the future to make drive-through shopping a permanent experience”.

Compared to the sophisticated offer abroad, it seems as though Tesco is setting itself up for failure by going about the trial in such a half-hearted way.