Boom in electronic shopping forecast

ELECTRONIC SHOPPING is set to become the fastest growing sector of the retail market in the next five years, with annual revenues soaring to more than pounds 6.1bn by 2003, according to a new report out today.

The report, published by Verdict, the retail consultants, says that while Britain's retailers are struggling against one of the toughest trading climates in recent memory, electronic shopping is starting to grow rapidly, albeit from a low base.

According to Verdict, on-line sales to UK customers rose by 40 per cent last year from pounds 290m to pounds 406m. Although this accounts for only 0.2 per cent of total retail sales in the UK, Verdict has identified positive trends. It says that the younger, "student" proportion of Internet shoppers has fallen, while the proportion of shoppers over 45 has increased.

Verdict forecasts that on-line sales in the UK will rise to pounds 6.1bn in 2003, accounting for 2.5 per cent of UK retail sales.

"Electronic shopping is gaining acceptance across a wide age spectrum," the report states. "It will be a boom sector that will prove highly lucrative for those retailers that get it right. However, it will remain one of many retail channels of distribution and will not replace the high street."

Verdict's finding represents a shift in its views as it has previously been sceptical about the prospects of retailing on-line.