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Customers continue to turn to eCommerce for Christmas gifting

Christmas sales in December were aided by an increased propensity to buy gifts online, according to statistics from the British Retail Consortium.

For the five weeks from 27 November to 31 December, online sales of non-food items grew 7.2% compared to the previous year. This was the first growth below 10% in four months, below the three-month average of 9.5% and 12-month average of 10%.

But Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the British Retail Consortium, explained the December figures were a solid performance with tough comparable months.

"At first glance this may appear a disappointing figure; but with December taking the second highest volume of online sales in the year, after November, this makes it an extremely tough comparable period. So overall, this is a relatively solid performance," she said.

In December 2016, online sales made up 24.3% of total non-food sales in the UK, compared to 22.6% in December 2015. Meanwhile, the three months to December saw online sales contributing 2.9 percentage points to the year-on-year growth of total non-food sales.

But in-store sales fell in the same period, declining 1.4% on a like-for-like basis. In-store sales also reported a decline in the month of December.

"As with total sales, there was a shift in spending towards the end of the month compared with last year and a slow start to the festive trading period was offset by a spending spree during the Christmas week. Online growth was also driven by Christmas gift purchases, keeping the beauty and toy categories at the top of the growth rankings for a second month," added Dickinson.

"Shopping online is becoming increasingly popular during the festive month. The channel won its greatest share of December sales to date, with nearly a quarter of all purchases being made online. No doubt this was partly due to customers being able to receive deliveries right up to the two days before Christmas, thanks to retailers extending their delivery guarantees this year. The penetration rate for online sales now remains above 20% for the fifteenth consecutive month."

Paul Martin, UK head of retail at KPMG, added: "Mirroring high street sales, toys, health and beauty products as well as men’s and children’s footwear proved popular this Christmas. Meanwhile, furniture struggled in light of purchases being prioritised elsewhere and women’s footwear slipped and failed to make it to e-checkouts.

"Most online categories noted sales growth in December, which will of course be welcome news," he concluded. "However, whilst the shopping channel continues to grow in popularity, retailers will need to battle with the logistics of fulfilment and the flurry of goods returned post-Christmas. Retailers will be hoping this doesn’t result in too much of a hangover."

Meanwhile, statistics from Nielsen reported a very Merry Christmas for the grocers.

Spending in supermarkets for the four weeks ending 31 December rose 3.3% year-on-year, which was the highest growth since 2012.

With Christmas Eve falling on a Saturday, customers left their Christmas food shop until the last minute, with sales rising 22% compared to the week before Christmas in 2015. Spend in the final two weeks was £5.9 billion, according to Nielsen.

Mike Watkins, Nielsen’s UK head of retail and business insight, said: "Shoppers left it particularly late this year, not only because there was an extra day to do the big Christmas shop but the mild weather meant there was no need to visit the shops to stock up in advance, which benefited larger stores in particular."

Morrisons today also revealed its Christmas sales, reporting its best festive season in seven years, with a 2.9% increase in sales, while performance was also buoyed through a 0.6% increase in online sales thanks to its Amazon partnership.