'

E-tailers looking at a bumper Christmas

Online spending doubled over the course of 2003, and e-tailers are likely to see their income increase another 44 percent year-on-year this Christmas

Online sales doubled last year to nearly £40bn, according to the government.

The Office of National Statistics has calculated 2003's Internet sales have more than doubled on the previous year's figure of £19bn. Most of those spending virtually were business -- homes accounted for around a quarter of all online sales last year, paying out £11.4bn.

Other non-Internet electronic sales - made over email, fax or automated telephone entry, rose slightly -- from £170bn in 2002 to £195.6bn last year.

Web spending looks set to continue apace, with analysts predicting that European consumers will give e-tailers some Christmas cheer.

A recent report from analyst house Forrester said that Internet sales this Christmas in Western Europe will rise 44 percent year-on-year -- rising to €13bn. The UK will remain the Web's big spender, according to Forrester, contributing a third of all online sales in Europe and paying out £3bn.

Travel and clothing will be the biggest revenue generators for online companies, the report said.