The Post Office is trialling a home shopping delivery service it hopes will revolutionise the delivery of goods bought over the Internet.

Net shoppers will be able to collect goods from 1,000 of the UK’s 18,500 post offices on evenings and weekends in trials announced this week. At the moment, people can only collect missed deliveries from main post offices on Saturday mornings, early in the morning or during office hours. The new service means that struggling sub-post offices will open longer hours and get a payment for each parcel collected.

If the six-month trial, taking place at around five percent of post offices in southwest England, is successful the Post Office, which is facing many challenges in other core businesses, plans to charge internet and mail order retailers a premium. The scheme is not going to bring big revenues initially, but the Post office estimates that if the home shopping market doubles in the next few years, it will be lucrative.

A Post Office survey found three million people in the UK bought goods over the internet last Christmas and it expects that figure to more than double this year. However, the second part of the trail is unlikely to launch before Christmas.

Internet shopping, which currently accounts for just £800m of the £10bn home shopping market, is expected to provide the bulk of the growth.

The Post Office says it already delivers around 60 percent of goods bought on the internet, but it acknowledges competition from a growing bank of specialist e-fulfilment service providers.

David Taylor, head of home shopping at the Post Office, is trying to sign a broad spectrum of internet retailers up to the service before announcing dates for the second part of the trial, which will allow online shoppers to specify a particular sub-post office they would like goods delivered to. Taylor believes the service will be especially popular in rural areas, as about 95 percent of the population is within easy reach of a sub-post office, while main post offices are much fewer and further away.

The widespread uptake of digital television is expected to give the new services an even greater boost. Almost 100 retailers have signed up to a Parcelforce scheme that offers evening deliveries. Royal Mail is also providing Slough-based with a same-day delivery service.