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There are signs that online retailers have experienced another bumper year, as shoppers turned their backs on the high street in favour of the net.

Of course, the true picture of what happened this year won't be known for some time until the release of official figures and trading updates from retailers.

However, there are some clues that e-tailers have enjoyed another good season. A survey of 4,500 people by pollsters YouGov found that a third did their shopping online this year, with one in four spending more than in previous years. E-tailers tipped to have done well include Amazon, Argos, and supermarkets Tesco, Sainsbury's and Waitrose.

Indeed, before Christmas, UK department store John Lewis - which also owns Waitrose - reported that it had racked up online sales of £100m in the past 12 months as it reported record sales this Christmas.

Elsewhere, a survey of small and medium businesses by UK-based ecommerce outfit Actinic found that retailers reported an increase in online sales of about 80 per cent in November and December compared to 2004.

However, despite descibing it as a "bumper" year, the picture is not all rosy and the poll found that about half the sites quizzed reported little or no change in the average value of Christmas orders compared with the rest of the year.

This, say experts, is probably due to firms not investing enough in their online shops.

Actinic managaing director, Phil Rothwell, said: "The high level of growth in online consumer demand has been sustained and looks set to continue for some time. Those investing today are seeing greater returns, because ecommerce penetration remains quite low."

This assessment of online trading so far comes amid a backdrop of tough trading conditions on the high street.

Retail analyst IGD reports that, overall, the Christmas trading period is expected to have been "particularly tough for a number of retailers", as consumer confidence was hit by rising utility and oil prices, slowing house price growth and increasing unemployment. ®

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