Online retailers achieved their strongest quarter in three years in the first three months of 2011.

Year-on-year turnover surged 18% in the quarter, the IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index showed.

In March, turnover was up 14% year on year as shoppers spent £5.1bn online – equivalent to £82 per person.

Multichannel outperformed pureplay in March, achieving year-on-year growth of 19% on average versus 6%.

The strongest performing sector in March was health and beauty, boosted by Mothers’ Day, which was up 20% month-on-month and 32% year-on-year.

Clothing footwear and accessories rose 16% on the month and 23% year-on-year. Within that accessorises sold especially well, up 59% on March 2010.

Electricals and gifts were subdued. Although up 6% and 3% respectively year-on-year in March, they fell 8% and 16% month-on-month.

IMRG director of information Tim Spooner said: “The Index confirms that online continues to be the beacon for the UK retail market during these tough economic conditions.”

He said that 70% of retailers expect etail sales to remain healthy for the rest of the year.