A new report, released today (Monday) by UK retail analyst Verdict Research, reveals the true strength of Britain's online retail sector.

In 2005, online retailers accounted for almost half the cash growth in retail spending, with internet sales increasing fifteen times faster than the high street average.

Though the web's share of retail is still small in comparison with bricks and mortar operators, its meteoric growth is sending shock waves throughout the retail sector as a whole, as shoppers of all ages switch to purchasing online.

Last year overall retail spending grew by just 1.5%, the slowest rate of modern times. Yet spending online surged ahead by 28.9% ... more than fifteen times the pace of all retail ... and accelerating beyond the the 27.4% growth surge achieved in 2004.

This means that of the extra £3.9 billion ($6.81bn; €5.71bn) spent by consumers on retail in 2005 (versus 2004) almost half, $1.8bn, went to online retailers.

Silver surfers are the fastest-growing online shopper group, says Verdict, and present online retailers with maximum potential for increased revenues.

The number of internet users aged 55+ virtually doubled to 2.7m in 2005. The rapid increase in online shopping among this age group is reflected by a 46.7% rise in spending to £458 per head.

Despite such impressive increases, Verdict believes there is further potential for growth, with just one in six over-55s currently shopping online, compared to an average of 29.7% across all age groups.

Data sourced from Verdict Research (UK); additional content by WARC staff