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More than 20% of UK retail sales took place online in February, as consumers moved more spending to the internet

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More than 20% of UK retail sales took place online in February, continuing evidence of a shift towards new patterns of buying, according to just-published figures from the British Retail Consortium.

But while online sales of non-food products grew by 10.7% in February and drove all sales growth during the month, they grew at their slowest rate since last October and below the annual average of 12.9%.

At the same time UK retail sales rose by 1.1% on February 20156, or by 0.1% on a like-for-like basis during the month, in which highlights included Valentine’s Day spending.

“Online channels once again played a vital role in driving retail sales in February,” said Helen Dickinson, chief executive of the BRC . “With the online penetration rate standing at 20.4%, February was the third month in a row when online accounted for over one in every five pounds spent on non-food items. Looking at sales of non-food across all channels, on a three-monthly basis, the web’s contribution to growth was an impressive 84%.”

David McCoquodale, head of retail at KPMG , said that while online growth had slowed in February, it had been a ‘very significant contributor” to non-food sales growth.

“Much is being done to eliminate barriers between channels as the consumer is channel agnostic,” he said. “However, the shift in shopping habits to the online channel is also bringing renewed focus on the role of the store.”

Online outperformed stores in most categories. That was most marked in clothing where 27.6% of sales were made online – three percentage points more than in February 2015. In toys and baby equipment, 26.3% of sales took place online, up from 23.3% a year earlier. At the other end of the scale, some 25.8% of furniture sales took place online in February, 0.4 percentage points lower than a year earlier.

Dickinson called on the government to recognise the changing way that shoppers buy in the upcoming budget. “The UK continues to be a global leader in online retail sales and this is down to the considerable investment British retailers continue to make in their online channels,” she said. “With budget 2016 on the horizon, Government has an opportunity to enable retail to build on its position of global leadership by recognising the significance of the ongoing structural change and considering how, by working with the industry, risks of these changes to more deprived areas and the most vulunerable in the workforce can be addressed.”

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