The retail sector is not taking advantage of an advertising market now worth more than £3bn, says Danny Brooks

Q: Which recession growth industry is retail missing out on? A: The online communications business.

The growth figures for online are all the more remarkable given the tough economic background. The Internet Advertising Bureau reports that the number of 'serious' internet users (those most likely to buy a holiday) jumped 28% from 12 million in 2007 to 15.3 million last year; time spent online by consumers is now second only to TV watching; and UK online advertising expenditure reached £3.35bn last year, up 17% on 2007, while all other forms of advertising stagnated or declined.

Canny advertisers are taking advantage of this huge shift in public use of the internet to reach buying audiences. But retail, apparently, is not - indeed, there was a 10% decline in retail online ad spend in 2008.

Property, technology, entertainment, media, automotive and even gardening have increased their online ad spend over the years. So why has retail backed away?

Retail marketing budgets are down overall. Admittedly, a lot of marketers find the new online methodology difficult to understand and evaluate. But it seems to me that a more professional approach would be to examine those parts of the marketing budget that deliver the best value and concentrate financial resources accordingly. More spend online would then be inevitable.

Home internet use is three times that of the workplace and the user population is spread roughly equally across all soci0-economic and age groups, including a rising number of over-55s. But it's worth advertisers exploiting specific phenomena such as the fact that women aged 24 to 35 spend more time online than men.

Attitudes towards advertising encountered on the internet are pretty positive, resulting in £46bn spent via the medium in 2007. Consumers say their purchases are prompted by emails and online advertising, and that their main reason for going online is to research information, with the greatest amount of traffic being to sites where they can buy something.

So you could say, to advertise online at the same time is to push at an open door.

Danny Brooks is project director with Brik Digital.