Researchers at the Interactive Media in Retail Group (IMRG) have estimated that today will be the busiest ever for online shopping as customers buy early to make sure their goods arrive on time.
Online retailers are expecting sales of £180m today, compared to £82m last year. The busiest time for online shopping is between 1pm and 2pm, with sales of over £14m forecast for that hour alone.
"Monday 4 December will be the biggest e-sales day of 2006, and it is interesting to note that more than a third of online shopping takes place either before or after traditional shopping hours," said James Roper, chief executive of IMRG.
"The online shopping peak is pulled forward each Christmas by millions of people who rely on the internet for their key shopping items, and shop early to have the best chance of goods being in stock and successful delivery."
The researchers found that online sales dip sharply from 6pm to 7pm but rise quickly afterwards. Around 30 per cent of a day's online sales are made after 6pm.
"The evening internet shopping peak is a recent phenomenon that has become possible with consumers' acquisition of broadband at home," said Chris Russell, director of eDigitalResearch.
"The evening peak between 7pm and 9pm is now 80 per cent as high as the lunchtime peak, when the highest sales are still recorded between 1pm and 2pm."
Online retailers expect the total take for the week to be £1.145bn, with the figures for this week accounting for a third of the month's sales.
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