July 27, 2012, 4:29 PM

U.K. web sales grow nearly 13% in the first half of 2012

Those sales are remarkable given the recession in the U.K.

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What do gloomy British weather, the upcoming Olympics and the European Football Championships have in common? They all helped spur web sales in the United Kingdom during the first six months of 2012, a new report says.

British shoppers spent 34.9 billion pounds ($54.2 billion) online in the first half of the year, up 12.58% from 31 billion pounds ($48.1 billion) in the first six months of 2011, The IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index finds. That double-digit growth in online sales is remarkable given that the U.K.'s gross domestic product has fallen in five of the last seven quarters. Total retail sales were up only 1.6% year over year in June, and the country's economy shrunk by 0.7% in the second quarter, according to the U.K. Office of National Statistics.

But U.K. consumers continue to spend more online, meaning they're moving more of their purchases from stores to the web. In June, online shoppers spent an estimated 6 billion pounds ($9.3 billion)–an average of 117 pounds ($181) per person—up 13% from June 2011.

The Index, which is compiled by consulting firm Capgemini Group in conjunction with the U.K.’s industry association for e-retail Interactive Media in Retail Group, or IMRG, tracks online sales of more than 100 U.K. e-retailers.

Electrical equipment e-retailers benefited significantly through sales of televisions and home entertainment systems ahead of the football championships and the Olympics, reporting year-over-year growth of 35% in June and 9% in May, the report says.  The report does not include the amount spent in each product category, only percentage increases or decreases.

Online travel sales benefitted from the weather, growing 17% year over year in June as Brits looked to escape record rainfall levels in the U.K.

The disappointing weather, however, did dampen sales of clothing, with the category growing a comparatively weak 4% in June 2012 over June 2011 and dropping off 9% in May compared with a year earlier, as the weather apparently discouraged shoppers from overhauling their summer wardrobes.

However, sales of accessories, which typically have a longer shelf life and lower ticket value than clothing, grew 47% in June 2012 compared with a year earlier, the Index reports.

Sales growth for web-only retailers outstripped that of multichannel retailers in June, with 17% year-over-year growth compared with 11% for retailers that operate in more than one channel, such as a retail site and stores. Those figures were similar for the first half of 2012 compared with the same period for 2011.

Sales via mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones, continued to rise in June, with m-commerce sales leaping 356% year over year.

Mobile commerce is still the big story here, with average order values comparable to the full web site, and retailers seeing mobile sales at circa 8% of their total digital income," says Andrew McClelland, chief operations and policy officer at IMRG.

Adam Plummer, head of e-commerce at beauty and bath products retailer The Body Shop, says he is seeing more sales and visits from mobile devices. “Mobile really is a game-changer,” Plummer says. “The shift to becoming the primary device of choice is well under way."

Although The Body Shop’s mobile sales are growing significantly (he would not disclose sales figures), Plummer says mobile visits are more impressive. One in five visits to The Body Shop’s e-commerce site stem from a mobile device, he says.

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