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E-tailers recorded a cracker of a Christmas with online sales jumping 20 per cent as more people shopped online during November and December 2004.

Research outfit Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) found that half of the UK population shopped online this Chrimbo, spending more than £3bn. Their purchases accounted for almost seven per cent of total UK retail sales over the festive period. Overall, the UK sploshed out £14.5bn in online retail sales during 2004.

Said IMRG's chief executive, James Roper: "Growth was slower this Christmas than last year but the entire marketplace has been more difficult and ecommerce hasn't escaped that. 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."

Predictably, online sales of electrical goods in the run-up to Christmas proved popular, surging 42 per cent higher than last year as people bought MP3 players and other digital gadgets. Booze sales soared 45 per cent.

Sharing his thoughts on the bumper sales, Brent Hoberman, chief executive of Lastminute.com, said: "Every year since we started the business, we have consistently seen more and more consumer interest in buying Christmas gifts online. Each holiday season the consumer seems to be leaving their Christmas shopping later and later, and this year was no exception - we sold 33 per cent of Christmas gifts in the two weeks prior to Christmas Day, compared to 21 per cent last year.

"We achieved almost 50 per cent growth in gifts over Christmas this year. For me, one of the key reasons we have been able to deliver strong growth year after year is because of the ever-expanding range of unique and unusual gift ideas we offer our customers, as well as increased consumer confidence in shopping on the Internet."

And it appears that this consumer confidence is critical to the ongoing success of ecommerce. Some reports before Christmas warned of a 'gift shambles' with scaremongers claiming that many presents would not be delivered in time while stocks ran out and postal services failed.

These fears proved unfounded, according to IMRG, which said few instances of gear failing to turn up in time have been reported. ®

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