Online shopping is booming in the UK, a new report reveals today.

Twenty billion UK shoppers are spending £17 billion a year using the internet as more and more people buy via the web.

Shoppers are increasingly shunning companies still not geared up to e-commerce and by 2009 a quarter of all UK shopping is predicted to be conducted via the internet in a market worth £80 billion.

Internet sales doubled between 2002 and 2003 – and some popular online retailers have seen sales triple in the last few months.

The figures come in a report charting the rise across Europe of all forms of “distance selling” – from catalogues and mail shots to telephone, sales, television and, increasingly, the internet.

The European Mail Order and Distance Selling Trade Association (Emota) says the advent of interactive communications has turned the business in a “multi-channel, multi-market” industry.

For the first time, Europe is outpacing America in online sales.

The UK, France, the Netherlands and Sweden are in the forefront, with most techno-shoppers spending their cash on holidays, clothes, consumer electronics and DVDs.

The swift growth in internet sales in countries such as the UK means the sector now accounts for half of all distance sales in Europe, according to Emota’s study.

In the UK, for every £100 of sales over the internet, £67 was spent on physical products, with the remainder going on services or downloaded music.

Emota secretary-general Aad Weening said the overall distance selling market in Europe would be even bigger if some remaining barriers to the EU single market were removed.

“We are also urging the European Commission to remove the barriers that still exist so that cross-border sales can also flourish, enabling our companies to spread out and consumers to take advantage of a wider and competitive choice of goods and services,” he said.

“The issues of VAT, (postal) distribution, consumer protection and international payment are critical. These barriers are thwarting what could be an even more robust sector. A thriving Single Market buoyed by consumer confidence is even more important in an EU comprised of 25 and more member states.”

Emota represents 18 national distance selling associations, including 15 from EU member states.

In many European countries the development of electronic shopping has been less frenetic than in the UK. In Belgium, internet selling rose by 4% this year, compared with 5% in Germany and 16% in France, where it represents 36% of all distance sales.

But in the UK’s case, the Office for National Statistics said e-shopping has already reached mass market proportions, with substantial improvements in the range and quality of e-retail services this year. Hence the forecast that about 25% of all UK shopping will be electronic within four years.

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