INTERNET shopping in the UK accounted for nearly a fifth of Christmas sales, new figures have revealed, with record numbers turning to online goods.
Web sales accounted for 18.6 per cent of non-food sales in December – up from 16.5 per cent the year before.
Sales were 19.2 per cent higher than the same month in 2012, the fastest rate for more than three years.
Overall, UK retail sales grew by just 0.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis, according to data from a British Retail Consortium (BRC) survey carried out by KPMG.
While Marks & Spencer enjoyed a strong surge in online sales, it once again fared badly with its in-store fashion sales, which fell for the 10th successive quarter. Yesterday, the company blamed a price war among retailers with cut-price sales starting earlier than ever.
M&S has struggled against arch-rivals John Lewis. Last Christmas it saw a fall in sales while John Lewis saw a rise of 13 per cent.
Commenting on the online sales, BRC director-general Helen Dickinson said: “More of us clicked into Christmas than ever before, with online non-food sales growth putting in its best performance since March 2010 and accounting for nearly 20 per cent of spending.
“The surge in the use of tablets and smartphones last year, together with the ever-faster delivery times achieved by an increasing number of retailers, has provided a new spur of growth to online shopping.”
Across the wider non-food sector, like-for-like sales in the three months of 2013 were up 1.5 per cent while a decline in food revenues accelerated to 0.6 per cent, which indicated the pressure on beleaguered major supermarkets as squeezed shoppers turned to discount rivals like Lidl and Aldi.
Ms Dickinson said the retail figures came in the context of a year of “encouraging but fragile recovery”, adding: “This is a respectable result overall. While confidence levels were higher than the previous year, this wasn’t always matched by more money in pockets.”
David McCorquodale, KPMG head of retail, said “Whilst store sales continue to flatline, online sales remain the main driver of growth for the sector, contributing nearly three quarters of the uptick in non-food sales in the last quarter of 2013.
“The winners this Christmas were those retailers with slick multi-channel operations, who could offer consumers the flexibility to shop how, and when, they wanted to.”
In clothing, online represented 21.2 per cent of sales in December, up from 18 per cent in 2012, while furniture and flooring products bought on the internet represented nearly a third of all sales, at 32.4 per cent – though this was down slightly on 32.6 per cent last year.
The figure for electrical goods and toys was 14.4 per cent, up from last year’s 11.9 per cent but a fall on the 15.5 per cent who shopped online for these goods in November.
This was attributed to consumers searching early on the web for in-demand Christmas products including video game consoles like the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 to try to get hold of them before they went out of stock.
For Marks & Spencer, the company’s chief executive Marc Bolland declined to answer questions over his future with sales down 2.1 per cent in the run up to Christmas.
Rival fashion retailer New Look posted a 1.5 per cent like-for-like UK sales rise over the seven weeks to 28 December.