LONDON: UK consumers are now making more online purchases via mobile devices than desktop, in what has been described as "a major digital tipping point" in a new report.

It's a development that has been coming but it arrived possibly sooner than expected in the last quarter of 2015, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report.

This revealed that smartphones and tablets had accounted for 51% of UK online retail sales in that quarter, up from a figure of 45% in the third quarter and 40% in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Tablets were the preferred device, with a 33% share of sales compared to smartphones' 18%, although the report noted that sales via the latter had risen sharply across the year.

In terms of traffic to retail websites, mobile devices were even more prominent – taking a 66% share, up from 63% in Q3 and 54% in Q4 2014 – highlighting their role in research.

Tina Spooner, chief information officer at IMRG, the UK's online retail association, reported that smartphones were rapidly becoming "a major component of the checkout process too".

In January, for example, "sales via smartphones grew 95.6% year-on-year", which was more than seven times the rate of increase recorded for sales via tablets.

"The main reason for this is likely to be related to the design trend for larger screens," she said, "but many mobile retail sites have improved significantly to give a far better experience and inspire confidence in shoppers.

"There is also the fact that we increasingly use our smartphones for managing so much of our lives – it's only logical that completing purchases on retail sites would gravitate over to these devices as well."

John Lewis online trade director Mark Felix described mobile as "the glue between our shops and online".

"Increasingly, customers are using the two channels combined and for example use their mobiles to check ratings and reviews and further product information when in-store," he said.

The embrace of the mobile channel isn't ready to slow. "Given that mobile advertising and geo-location marketing are yet to hit maturity, you feel there is more growth to come," said Richard Tremellen, retail insight and data specialist at consulting firm Capgemini.

Data sourced from IMRG: additional content by Warc staff