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 Friday, 17 January, 2003, 00:03 GMT
Online sales race ahead of High Street
Graph of UK internet sales
Online shopping over the Christmas period grew 19 times faster than overall retail sales, an industry body has told BBC News Online.

IMRG said online sales were 79% higher than a year ago, with shoppers "deluging" e-tailers with 949m worth of orders in the three available Christmas shopping weeks.

People who had previously only been buying books and CDs [were] branching out to more ambitious purchases

Simon Palethorpe
John Lewis Direct
This compared with year-on-year growth on the High Street of 4.1%, according to British Retail Consortium figures.

John Lewis Direct managing director Simon Palethorpe said he thought the growth indicated increased confidence in online shopping.

"We also see it as people who had previously only been buying books and CDs branching out to more ambitious purchases as they become more sophisticated internet users."

He said John Lewis Direct had seen demand at three times 2001 levels.

A bottle of wine a second

IMRG said online sales were greater across all sectors, but sales of alcohol did particularly well.

"The internet really came of age this Christmas as a place to buy wine," said Rowan Gormley, chief executive of Virgin Wines.

Graph of internet alcohol sales

"We sold nearly 400,000 bottles of wine in December alone - a bottle a second on some days."

Wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd said it had seen "a sharp and sudden increase in the volume of orders".

Gifting sales - whereby the e-tailer wraps the present and sends it direct to the recipient - were also extremely popular.

Limited window for selling

IMRG chief executive James Roper said he was "delighted" with the December figures, despite there being a slight dip from November's record 1bn level.

He said this was because the selling window for online retailers had been limited last month, with presents needing to be delivered by Christmas Day.

"Basically you had two weeks selling for the month for many retailers," he said, although some firms took Christmas orders up to 20 December.

E-tailers in December accounted for 4% of all retail sales, IMRG said.

Broadband surge?

IMRG said online sales would continue to grow rapidly this year, doubling levels seen during 2002.

And it said the increasing take-up of broadband would lead to a further surge in shopping online.

"Once broadband kicks in it fundamentally changes what consumers do," Mr Roper said.

"I think it will be the second wave revolution of the internet."

See also:

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