LONDON: A record number of British consumers turned to the internet for their Christmas shopping in December, new data from the UK retail industry body has revealed, with nearly one-in-five of all non-food items being purchased online.

According to a survey for the British Retail Consortium (BRC), conducted by auditors KPMG, online sales accounted for 18.6% of total non-food sales in December, up from 16.5% the year before, while internet purchases of non-food products also grew 19.2% from a year earlier.

This represented the strongest rate of growth since March 2010 and provided a stark contrast with the results for overall UK retail sales, which grew by just 0.4% on a like-for-like basis.

BRC director general Helen Dickinson highlighted the "surge" in the use of tablets and smartphones as well as multichannel offerings by some retailers as key factors for the performance.

She praised those retailers who have invested significantly in their websites and improved their delivery times and said "this enhanced offer clearly struck a chord with customers who valued flexibility, choice and convenience whenever and wherever they did their shopping".

David McCorquodale, head of retail at KPMG, agreed the flexibility offered by multichannel operations was essential to retail success and advised retailers to focus on the "last mile" by working out how to get goods to the customer even faster.

"Retailers who can offer same day delivery, at a reasonable price, will be the winners in the race for sales in 2014 and steal a march on their competitors," he said.

In other findings, the BRC said quarterly total growth was 2.2% against 2.8% for the whole year, confirming a recent slowdown in sales and consumer confidence.

There had also been a 0.6% decline in food sales over the last quarter, in a sign of further pressure on some major supermarkets as shoppers switched to discount chains.

Morrisons, for example, has reported a 5.6% fall in like-for-like sales in the six weeks to 5 January while Tesco's like-for-like sales also decreased by 2.4% over the Christmas period.

Data sourced from the British Retail Consortium; additional content by Warc staff