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No-name grocer first to cart away wireless deal

A grocery store in New York leapfrogs over larger Net supermarkets, such as Webvan and Peapod, to launch the first wireless online grocery service in the United States.

Who said only the richest companies can compete on the Net?

Jefferson Market, a grocery store in New York, has leapfrogged over larger Net supermarkets, such as Webvan and Peapod, to launch the first wireless Internet grocery shopping service in the United States, the company announced today.

With the help of Peachtree Network, a Montreal company that helps independent grocers build Web stores, Jefferson will deliver merchandise to customers' doors throughout most of Manhattan. Peapod and Webvan both said today they intend to debut their own wireless shopping services in the future.

But the tiny Jefferson Market, located in Manhattan's Greenwich Village, has beaten the big guys to the punch. And only two weeks ago, through Peachtree, the market debuted its online store.

Paula Wheeler, a spokeswoman for Peapod, said the Skokie, Ill.-based online grocer has "wireless initiatives under way," but the company does not believe wireless e-commerce is "ready for prime time."

Traditionally, smaller e-tailers have had to look for ways to help them compete with their bigger and better-funded competitors. With all their efforts, it is highly unusual that a small company can best larger concerns in launching new, technologically advanced services.

Jeremy Lee Jonas, chief operating officer of Peachtree, which has outfitted 17 grocery stores in the United States and Canada with online operations, said wireless services give independent stores a way to strengthen their links to customers.

"The independent stores have always had to concentrate on giving better personalized service, and this is a way to offer more convenience," Jonas said.

As for the cost, Jonas said the service pays for itself because smaller companies have a better chance at growing their businesses "in percentage terms" using the Web than do already established companies.

Because Jefferson customers already create virtual shopping lists when they buy groceries on the site, the same list can be downloaded into their wireless shopping carts, Jonas said.

Unwanted items can be deleted from the shopping list. The service offers a search function and a list of discounted items and will feature suggested recipes.