Britain's reputation as a nation of shopkeepers is under threat from the growing ecommerce sector, judging by a new report.
The Interactive Media in Retail Group believes the rise and rise of the internet will soon have a visible impact on the high street as online operators' share of the retail market grows.
In its report on Christmas etail, the group found that ecommerce represented around 7% of total retail sales across November and December. IMRG chief James Roper estimates this share will grow to 10% by the end of 2004, with disastrous implications for the high street.
"Thousands of retail outlets will close in the next few years, jobs will be lost and town centres will be transformed," he warned.
Not that this will worry etailers, who enjoyed a record Christmas in 2003. Online transactions over the period jumped 70% to £2.5 billion ($4.5bn; €3.6bn).
The study also found that online sales rocketed in December compared with November, a change from previous years when ecommerce levels have been similar across both months.
IMRG singled out Argos, Tesco, Comet and Littlewoods as the biggest online winners over Christmas, but criticised W H Smith, House of Fraser and Selfridges for their failure "to embrace internet trading opportunities".
According to hitwise.co.uk, Britain's top ten ecommerce operators (with market share in brackets) are:
1. eBay (25.5%)
2. Amazon (8.21%)
3. Argos (2.31%)
4. eBayshops UK (2.23%)
5. Kelkoo (2.14%)
6. Play (1.6%)
7. Tesco (1.55%)
8. Argos Entertainment (1.01%)
9. Comet (0.99%)
10. Dealtime (0.97%)
Data sourced from: BBC Online Business News (UK); additional content by WARC staff