Online sales growing at fastest rate in three years as high street suffers

Web sales growth in December accelerated to 19.2%, the fastest rate for more than three years

More Britons than ever did their Christmas shopping online this year with almost one in five non-food purchases made over the internet.

Web sales growth in December accelerated to 19.2%, the fastest rate for more than three years, while overall UK retail sales grew by just 0.4% on a like-for-like basis.

The data from the British Retail Consortium (BRC) survey carried out by KPMG showed online trade represented 18.6% of total non-food sales in December, up from 16.5% the year before.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson said: "More of us clicked into Christmas than ever before, with online non-food sales growth putting in its best performance since March 2010 and accounting for nearly 20% of spending.

"The surge in the use of tablets and smartphones last year, together with the ever-faster delivery times achieved by an increasing number of retailers, has provided a new spur of growth to online shopping."

The news follows a string of poor Christmas trading figures from high street stalwarts such as Debenhams, M&S, Tesco and Morrisons.

Across the wider non-food sector, like-for-like sales in the last quarter were up 1.5% while a decline in food revenues accelerated to 0.6% indicating the pressure on beleaguered major supermarkets as squeezed shoppers turned to their discounter rivals.

Ms Dickinson said the retail figures came in the context of a year of "encouraging but fragile recovery", adding: "This is a respectable result overall. While confidence levels were higher than the previous year, this wasn't always matched by more money in pockets."

David McCorquodale, KPMG head of retail, said: "Whilst store sales continue to flatline, online sales remain the main driver of growth for the sector, contributing nearly three quarters of the uptick in non-food sales in the last quarter of 2013.

"The winners this Christmas were those retailers with slick multichannel operations, who could offer consumers the flexibility to shop how, and when, they wanted to."

In clothing, online sales represented 21.2% of sales in December, up from 18% in 2012, while furniture and flooring products bought on the internet represented nearly a third of all sales, at 32.4% - though this was down a little on 32.6% last year.

The figure for electrical goods and toys was 14.4%, up from last year's 11.9% but a fall on the 15.5% who shopped online for these goods in November.

This was attributed to consumers searching early on the web for in-demand Christmas products such as video game consoles to try to get hold of them before they went out of stock.

PA

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