Ocado Van

Early online pioneers such as Ocado are reaping the rewards of investment in online technology

Sales at the UK’s 20 biggest online retailers have soared by 23% in a year, according to a new report.

Innovations including AI chatbots, letting shoppers engage with retailers on their smartphones, have helped drive sales up to £8.4bn in 2016-17, compared with £6.8bn the year before, according to research by professional services company RPC.

The study also pointed to smart speakers and apps letting people search for purchases using their phone cameras as drivers of ‘anywhere, anytime’ shopping.

The research, covering household names including Ocado, Asos and AO.com, also found bricks-and-mortar retailers were becoming more reliant on their online operations for growth.

Marks & Spencer saw 6% growth in online sales in the past year, compared with 1% for its retail operation as a whole, according to RPC.

Jeremy Drew, RPC’s co-head of retail, said: “The maturing of m-commerce is helping e-retailers supercharge sales.

“Increasingly sophisticated mobile shopping platforms are making it easy for consumers to make purchases quickly and easily whenever they want, wherever they are.

“From being virtually unknown five or 10 years ago, many online-only retailers are building strong brands and grabbing more and more market share. Innovative business models and rapidly evolving new technologies such as robotics and AI are enabling e-tailers to be increasingly agile and responsive to customers, while still keeping prices down.

“Now we are seeing more bricks-and-mortar retailers investing heavily in their online offerings too, in an attempt to catch up.”