U.K. mass merchant Sainsbury's is to launch a music download store in the run up to Christmas.

An exact launch date for the as-yet-unnamed service is to be announced, but a statement posted on the supermarket's corporate website confirms that the download platform will make its U.K. bow before the end of November.

Sainsbury's is the U.K.'s third largest mass merchant retailer and operates 872 stores in the United Kingdom, comprising of 537 supermarkets and 335 convenience stores, which serve over 20 million customers a week, according to the London-based company.

Sainsbury's decision to enter the U.K. download market follows the recent launch of its new website www.sainsburysentertianment.co.uk and forms part of a wider initiative to increase the retailer's online entertainment offer.

At present, Sainsbury's customers can only purchase CDs, DVDs and video games in-store or via mail order from the company's website. In 2009 Sainsbury's accounted for 2.9% of all music sales in the U.K., according to trade body the BPI.

The new Sainsbury's download store will enable customers to download individual tracks and albums from artists signed to all four majors, as well as leading indie labels. Downloaded music will be compatible will all music libraries and MP3 players, says Sainsbury's, although download prices are yet to be announced. Approximately 500,000 music tracks will available to purchase at launch, a spokesperson tells Billboard.biz.

A smaller selection of films will also be available to download while a range of Ebooks will be introduced early next year.

Tesco, the U.K.s leading mass merchant retailer, which accounted for 10.2% of all U.K. music sales in 2009, according to BPI, already operates its own download store.

In a statement, Richard Crampton, Sainsbury's head of entertainment said: "Online enables us to offer much more than we can in store."

"The new site will join seamlessly with our existing non-food online offer so customers can browse and discover their favorite music, films, books and games easily," Crampton continued.