Internet retailers ring up record sales to smash the £7bn barrier

Analysts predict growth of 50 per cent on last year, as lower prices lure shoppers away from the high street
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The Independent Online

The value of goods bought on the internet this holiday season has jumped by 50 per cent to over £7bn, with an unprecedented number of shoppers turning their backs on the high street.

According to retail analysts, UK consumers are becoming increasingly comfortable with buying goods online, in preference to fighting their way through crowded shops.

James Roper, the chief executive of IMRG, the online retailing trade body, said: "All of the anecdotal evidence coming out of the retailers is that [online] December sales will be even higher than predicted. Sales could go up by up to 50 per cent over last year."

He predicted that web sales for the 10 weeks leading to Christmas could reach as high as £7.5bn, 50 per cent more than the £5bn worth of goods bought on the internet in the same period last year.

The surge in internet shopping comes amid what most analysts believe has been a solid Christmas overall for retailers, with total sales likely to be between 6 and 9 per cent up on last year.

A slew of high-street names will report details of Christmas trading to the stock market in the next few weeks.

The surge in growth online represents either a looming threat or an opportunity for traditional retailers. Online sales in the UK for the month of November hit £3.2bn - the first time the £3bn threshold had been breached.

Analysts believe that the lower prices available on the internet have been the main factor behind the surge in the popularity of online shopping. Although a record number of bargain hunters have taken advantage of the post-Christmas sales on the high street, better deals are still available on the internet.

Last week Currys reduced the price of a Pioneer 42in plasma television from £1,799 to £1,499. But, an online electronics retailer, was selling the same TV for just £1,329.

Comet marked down a Cannon gas cooker from £599 to £479, but has it for £444. Waterstone's was selling Ricky Gervais's book Flanimals of the Deep for £6.49, half its £12.99 sticker price. But at Amazon, the UK's largest internet retailer, it is on sale for £5.84.

More than 1.3 million customers shopped at in the four weeks' run-up to Christmas, a 30 per cent increase over the same period last year. The supermarket giant benefited from the increased range of non-food items, such as clothes, toys and DVDs, that it now offers online. Other leading web retailers expected to post big holiday sales gains include, the DVD and music seller, Apple, maker of the iPod music player, and Argos.

It is believed that more than 180 million parcels were delivered to homes in the weeks before Christmas. Mr Roper added: "Physical delivery is now the serious weak link of online shopping. That is our priority for the next year. We've got to get the delivery industry to raise its game."