John Lewis will dip its toes into the choppy waters of online fashion e-tailing with the launch of its own version of online fashion giant Asos.com.

The department store group, which has been doggedly pursuing fashion sales over the past year, will launch the standalone site in the autumn in time for the Christmas trading period.

But the site will have some very big fashion shoes to fill if it is to chase Asos’s dominance of the online fashion space.

John Lewis managing director Andy Street told Retail Week yesterday that there are huge opportunities for the department store group in fashion.

With only 27 stores nationwide and plans to open a further eight by 2013 on ice as developers delay projects in the downturn, online is a surefire way to reach a wider audience.

Online is, therefore, an obvious avenue to push for John Lewis, which has attempted to bolster its fashion credentials over the past year. It has added 40 brands to its stores and now houses top-end brands such as Ted Baker, Jigsaw and Farhi.

In September, it splashed£1.5m in its biggest ever fashion campaign featuring supermodel Karen Elson. Love or loathe the campaign – successful or not – John Lewis is making all the right noises to change perceptions that its fashion is staid.

However, a straw poll of fashionistas at Retail Week indicates that it still has some ground to make up.

The figures suggest it is heading in the right direction though. Fashion sales in the year to January 31 jumped 4.7 per cent to£928m. The fashion division grew to represent 34 per cent of total sales, up from 33 per cent the year before.

And the timing of the launch is right. Earlier this month, research showed that online sales in the UK are set to rise 6 per cent a year and hit£56bn by 2014, with fashion being the biggest growth channel for online retail over the past year.

The channel appears to be relatively recession-proof and its popularity is growing as people become comfortable with getting their fashion fix at the click of a mouse. The dominance of Asos and its continued growth are testament to this fact.

The autumn also marks the return of Tesco to the online fashion arena with its own-label offer, after beating a hasty retreat a year ago. Tesco is unlikely to make the same (rare) mistake twice.

John Lewis’ increasingly rosy reputation with brands sets it well ahead of Tesco in the fashion stakes. Most established brands will avoid being associated with Tesco, however, John Lewis already sells brands including Barbour, 7 for All Mankind, Weekend by MaxMara and Gerry Weber on its John Lewis Direct website.

Undoubtedly John Lewis will execute the website excellently – John Lewis Direct sales rocketed 24.2 per cent to£332.9m over the past year – and the customer service will be second to none, but the retailer still has a long way to go until it commands the same kind of respect reserved for the likes of Asos.