Internet shopping reached an all-time high in November, with Britain's 16 million online shoppers spending £1.17bn – almost twice as much as this time last year, according to a report by IMRG, the industry body for global e-retailing.

The UK e-retail sector is significantly outperforming most of the other major world markets, the report says.

The 44 per cent increase in online shopping is 12 times higher than the 3.6 per cent increase reported for all retail sales in Britain – and accounts for seven per cent of the total. In the US it is estimated that e-retailing in 2003 will account for just 1.5 per cent of all retail sales.

Findings from Hitwise, an Internet traffic monitoring service that tracks how people around the world interact with 450,000 websites, indicate that visits to retail Web sites represented 9.7 per cent of all visits made online in the UK. In the US, visits to retail sites represented 6.88 per cent of online visits.

And according to Visa, online shopping in Europe is dominated by the UK – a total of £225,027,580 was spent on electrical products in Europe, £176,282,468 of this spent in the UK.

Gadgets top gift lists

Electrical goods accounted for the biggest increase in online spending. November saw spending on such items reach £204 million – 47 per cent more than last November.

The latest estimates are that 12 per cent of electrical goods will be bought online this Christmas – with British shoppers predicted to have spent £2.1 billion on electrical goods online by the end of 2003.

Head of Amarjit Singh confirmed these findings: "Consumer electronics is one of the fastest-growing areas of online shopping. New technology products are driving the online sales revolution with demand for the latest digital products reaching unprecedented levels this Christmas."

"Demand has been so high in areas such as LCD, plasma screens and digital set-top boxes that we have had to make last-minute arrangements to ship in additional quantities in order to fulfil customers' orders in time for Christmas," he added.

According to Kelkoo, nine of the ten top searches relate to electrical products, the exception being DVDs. The highest ranking item was iPod.

The IMRG report puts the growth in online shopping's popularity down to it being "at least four times faster than visiting bricks-and-mortar stores" and because of "ease of payment, ease of delivery and presents arriving gift-wrapped".

This is backed up by an ICM poll – the market research company found that 53 per cent of consumers "hate Christmas shopping". And for 42 per cent of shoppers interviewed by the Royal Mail, shopping is the single most stressful aspect of the festive season.