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Monday, January 11, 1999 Published at 17:25 GMT

Business: The Economy

Positive verdict for Internet shopping

We could be on the brink of an Internet shopping revolution

Shopping over the Internet is about to take-off in the UK according to a new report.

Verdict, the retail research group, predicts that within five years more than £6bn worth of goods in the UK will be sold over the computer network, representing 2.5% of total retail sales.

Electronic shopping sales in the UK were £406m in 1998, or 0.2% of retail sales, according to Verdict, and that figure is set to double in 1999.

Boom times

Verdict believes electronic shopping is set to boom, becoming the fastest growing retail sector by far. The Internet could bring some relief for troubled retailers who are facing one of their toughtest trading periods for many years.

"There is massive latent demand waiting to be tapped in addition to growth from new shoppers."

However the UK's leading retailers appear unprepared for the expected explosion in demand.

Lagging behind

Of the UK's 100 largest retailers, 47 have web sites but only 14 of these can be used to buy goods.

Verdict's study supports a recent report from Fletcher Research which points out that the UK is losing out to online shopping competitors from the US.

Verdict says that for Internet shopping to become a profitable medium, retailers need to add value such as in-depth product information, reviews and sampling.

It also says that the profile of the Internet shopper has changed. A large drop in the number of 15-24 year olds shopping on the Internet in 1998 put down to disappointment with the service while the number of shoppers aged over 45 increased proving that electronic shopping is moving into the "mainstream and mass market arena".

Nevertheless the launch of interactive shopping facilities on digital TV will increase the size of the market, while speed and convenience will encourage Internet shopping.

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