MILAN: Online sales of luxury goods are expected to increase by 20% a year during the period to 2015, encouraged by changing shopper habits and the rising influence of channels like social media.

Altagamma, the trade body, polled 187 international premium brand owners and surveyed 1,500 consumers, as well as monitoring over 450 websites and 150m social media services and blogs.

In 2010, the internet took 2% of global revenues, or €4.5bn from the €172bn total, a figure due to hit €11bn by 2015, Altagamma estimated. "Luxury will become less ostentatious, with the average buyer being Chinese, digital and rich," said Francesco Di Lauro its head of research.

Some 78% of Chinese web users who had previously made category purchases online did so to avoid sales assistants, standing at 56% in Europe and 46% for the US.

Elsewhere, 23% of Europeans were defined as "variety seekers", as was the case for just 11% of their Chinese peers, and only 4% of Americans.

By contrast, the US had the highest number of online "bargain hunters", on 23%, more than doubling China's 10% and almost triple the 8% logged across the European markets featured.

Exactly 67% of the European panel had researched a luxury purchase on the internet before buying in a store during the last 12 months, falling to 63% in China and 50% when discussing the US.

Among shoppers engaging in this pastime, 68% visited platforms related to a single brand, 50% went to magazine sites, 45% viewed multi-brand portals, and 40% looked to a department store's ecommerce hub.

Turning to informal channels, 37% accessed fashion blogs, 26% leveraged social networks and 19% streamed content on YouTube for the same reason.

Roughly 150,000 social media messages are uploaded regarding luxury brands each week, of which 1.4% are negative, 6.6% are "mixed", 61.3% are neutral and 30.5% are clearly positive.

Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Porsche were among the leading players in terms of online visibility and traffic, while Ralph Lauren, Gucci and Tiffany placed well for retaining consumer interest online.

Ermenegildo Zegna, Salvatore Ferragamo and Swarovski were some of the labels with the most loyal digital customers, displayed by monthly visits to websites, buzz levels and retweets of messages.

Data sourced from Altagamma; additional content by Warc staff