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Blighty internet shopping goes ballistic

As young women become dominant UK online group. Coincidence?

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UK shoppers are abandoning the high street and going online in droves, according to the latest figures from the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG), the industry body.

April net sales were up a thumping 55 per cent on last year at £3.47bn, taking the total web-receipts count since 1995 into 12 figures. The IMRG numbers people reckon that annual sales will hit £42bn this year, and fully £78bn (20 per cent of all retail sales) by 2010. They say many sellers have yet to move online, giving the sector plenty of room to grow.

Naturally enough, the spread of broadband is seen as having driven the internet shopping revolution. Typical home net connections are now always-on and better than 1Mbit/sec, compared to the rickety 14.4kbit dial-up of yesteryear.

Traditional online staples such as travel and electrical goods continue to stand high in the ratings, but other sectors are developing fast. Many consumers who would previously only buy cheaper items like books and CDs via the internet have become comfortable with purchasing white goods and furniture this way. Others were already more than willing to make big-ticket buys like new computers using their existing machines.

In particular, the natural tendency for gadget lovers to buy online has caused some heartache for the high-street providers. Notably, Dixons has decided to pull out of the town centres and focus on internet sales.

Meanwhile, less obvious categories such as clothes, accessories, and shoes are expanding rapidly, according to the IMRG. This trend could be related to the revelation (pdf) this week by Nielsen/NetRatings that the dominant group of UK residents on the internet is now women aged 18-34, rather than the more normal model of socially-challenged young men.

No doubt the geeks are still there, but as the internet has moved into mainstream society it appears they are now outnumbered online by young women lusting for shoes, handbags, and gladrags. That said, the NetRatings data is tricky to reconcile with that from the IMRG, as it appears that the ladies-who-surf typically favour parenting sites rather than ones offering cut price Manolo Blahniks.

It may be that the online surge by women of childbearing age has more to do with maternity leave than it does with 360-degree Flash shoe porn. ®

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