February 1, 2005, 12:00 AM

U.K. holiday shoppers go online, too

Online retail sales are booming in the U.K.. E-commerce sales in November and December were up 20% over the year before, with consumers spending more than £3 billion.

Online retail sales are booming in the U.K. E-commerce sales in November and December were up 20% over the year before, with consumers spending more than £3 billion, reports the trade association Interactive Media in Retail Group. By contrast, total retail sales in the two months in the U.K. were up 2.5%. Half the U.K. population shopped online during this past holiday shopping season, the group reports.

The trade association reports that online shopping represented 6.8% of all U.K. retail sales during the holiday shopping period.

"Growth was slower this Christmas than last year but the entire marketplace has been more difficult and e-commerce hasn`t escaped that," says James Roper, the trade group`s chief executive. "It has still done well and, as the take-up of broadband increases and more retailers invest in their online sites, more shopping will move online."

The IMRG Index of online sales reached an all time high of 1766 in November from its starting point of 100 in April 2000. U.K. online shopping sales for calendar year 2004 were valued at £14.5 billion.

Online customers were particularly interested in consumer electronics, where sales grew 42% over last year. Internet sales of beer, wine and alcohol were up 45% over a year ago.

Peak shopping occurred the week ending Dec. 11, when sales were 44% higher than the first week in November.

U.K. consumers are, however, becoming more comfortable shopping later in the season. "Each holiday season, consumers seem to be leaving their Christmas shopping later and later and this year was no exception. We sold 33% of Christmas gifts in the two weeks prior to Christmas Day, compared to 21% last year," said Brent Hoberman, chief executive of online retailer Lastminute.com.

U.K.-based Figleaves.com`s chairman Daniel Nabarro reported that the online lingerie and underwear site had sales of more than £2.5 million in December, a monthly record. Its busiest day was 60% above last year.

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