Internet sales hit record £13bn in first quarter

Danny Fortson
Monday 21 April 2008 00:00

Internet sales have hit an all-time high in the UK as price-conscious shoppers shun the high street in lieu of bargain-hunting online.

Through the first three months of the year, web sales passed the £13bn mark, a 50 per cent increase over the same period last year and equal to £213 for every person in the UK.

The figures, compiled in the IMRG e-Retail Sales Index, underline the growing importance of the web to retailers as the wider economy slows. "When the going gets tough, shoppers go online," said Jo Evans, managing director of IMRG. "We have seen this before during every downturn since the Index began, so can confidently predict that e-retail will buck the high street's flatline trend and continue to grow strongly during the year ahead."

The survey also found that shoppers are spending an average of one-third more per online shopping visit– £12 – than they did five years ago.

The numbers, which come amid a flurry of disappointing updates from high-street retailers, underlines retailing's nature as a zero sum game – web retailers' gain is the high street's loss.

Sales were especially strong in big-ticket categories such as electronics, where shoppers are willing to spend more time to find lower prices and have the added convenience of home delivery.

"Trade through March has remained strong despite tougher trading conditions in the market at large," said David Walmsley, head of internet sales at John Lewis Direct. "We have experienced especially strong sales across electricals and consumer electronics, with products such as Sony Bravia televisions and ... washing machines being best sellers for us."

Wine beer and spirits enjoyed the biggest gains – up 60 per cent through March, representing an annual total of £700m.

The jump coincides with the accelerating pace of pub closures, already struggling due to the smoking ban and poor weather. The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that about four pubs are closing every day, leaving a fifth less than there were 30 years ago.

The recent introduction of higher taxes on all types of alcohol looks to accelerate that trend. Like high-street retailers, that bodes ill for bricks and mortar operators but much better for web sellers.

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