Cheer for online giant Amazon

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The Independent Online

The Internet retail giant Amazon toasted record festive sales for the UK today after benefiting from its recent expansion into the household goods market.

The online books and music specialist said Christmas 2003 was its busiest ever in the UK, helping the American retailer record its first ever full-year profit. announced that it had its biggest shipment day to date in December, when it dispatched more than 300,000 items.

UK managing director Robin Terrell said the company's recent expansion into new areas such as household gadgets helped fuel the success.

He said: "We have seen pretty spectacular growth, particularly due to our strategy of trying to become the place where you can buy anything online.

"One of our household best-sellers was a chocolate fondue set. The fact that we are able to sell items like that really gives us confidence we can build our selection."

The new household goods site was launched in the UK and Germany in April last year and sells items such as kettles and electric toothbrushes.

The electronics sector was especially popular with Amazon's customers in the UK and Germany. Mr Terrell said DVD players had been extremely popular, with prices so low that people were no longer just buying one per household.

British sales also benefited from the lowering of the free delivery threshold from £29 to £25. recorded net profits of 35.3 million US dollars (£19.3 million) in 2003, compared with a loss of 149.1 million US dollars (£81.4 million) last year.

Although no break-down of the UK figures was given, international sales - representing the UK, German, French and Japanese sites - soared 74% to 1.14 billion US dollars (£620 million) in the fourth quarter.

However, once changes in foreign currency rates were taken into consideration this figure dropped to 54%.

International sales for the year topped two billion US dollars (£1.09 billion) for the first time.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss topped the best-selling Christmas books on, followed by Schott's Food and Drink Miscellany and Michael Moore's Dude Where's my Country.

Dido's Life for Rent was top of the music best-sellers, with REM's In Time, The Best of REM in second place. started up in October 1988 and lists millions of new and used items in categories such as books, music, videos and DVDs, electronics and homeware.