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Last Updated: Thursday, 22 December 2005, 07:46 GMT
Boom in online Christmas shopping
More people in Northern Ireland than ever have turned to the internet for their Christmas shopping.

There had been predictions that online shopping would rise by as much as a third this year, with many people opting to order their gifts from the comfort of their own home.

Computer
More and more people are turning to the internet this Christmas

Certainly, Sendit.com, which is probably the biggest Northern Ireland-based online business, has experienced its busiest year to date.

The Christmas rush is nearly over with only a few last-minute orders for DVDs and videos to complete, but the company is now looking at ways to expand.

Joanne Uprichard of Sendit.com said: "The last few Christmases people were testing it out and this Christmas they were more than happy to order a greater percentage of their gifts online.

"We know we can sell DVDs to our customers. We want to sell related products as well.

"We know they're playing games online so we want to sell them games consoles and video games as well."

This year, Royal Mail expects to handle 3.5m packages at Christmas - a growth of 50% or more over the past five years.

Internet orders placed several days ago have been sorted at the Royal Mail centre in Mallusk, County Antrim.

Extra staff have been taken on to cope with the increasing volumes of mail.

Crowds of shoppers
The good news for Belfast is that we have seen more people than ever coming into the city centre
Joanne Jennings
Belfast City Centre Manager

David Peden of Royal Mail said that the same company names cropped up again and again in the post.

"We have seen tremendous growth over the last number of years. There are a number of major retailers moving very largely into that (online) market now," he said.

"We have Sendit, Play.com, Home Shopping Direct and particularly Amazon which have all been very, very popular choices this Christmas and are driving a lot of the growth we have seen this year.

"We expect it will grow and we are very well geared up to meet those demands."

There had been predictions that up to 5bn could be spent online in November and December this year.

Traders also feared that shoppers would cut back due to economic circumstances.

However, despite the boom in internet sales, hoards of people have been out and about in Belfast city centre - many of whom had also shopped online.

Sales tag
Many items are discounted in Belfast city centre
Belfast City Centre Manager Joanne Jennings said: "There was a view that we would have a very poor Christmas this year.

"The good news for Belfast is that we have seen more people than ever coming into the city centre.

"The question that remains is whether this will be translated into retail sales.

"The good news for the customer is that there's a lot of pre-Christmas sales, there's a lot of bargains, there's a lot of heavy discounting and we'll see how that really turns out at the end."

BBC Northern Ireland business editor James Kerr said: "Internet shopping is likely to grow, it is likely to continue to grow quite quickly.

"That will keep the pressure on some of the traditional retailers.

"But that pressure is in turn good for the customers: more competition, more choice."

SEE ALSO
Strong growth in UK retail sales
15 Dec 05 |  Business
Why Christmas falls on 12 December
30 Nov 05 |  Business

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