The small, but steady, rise of Internet shopping levels is beginning to slow, according to a report from AMR Research.

Data collected from the 800 US Internet users surveyed shows that 71 per cent of the sample purchased something online over Christmas.

This shows an increase of 7 per cent from the previous year. However, it was less of a jump than was recorded between 2001 and 2002, which went from 55 per cent to 64 per cent - an increase of 9 per cent.

According to the report, the number of first-time Internet shoppers is also starting to level - from a 16 per cent increase in first-time users between 2001 and 2002, to an 11 per cent rise this year.

By contrast, the report also shows that the erosion of the call-in catalogue market has levelled. These factors spell a new chapter in online retailing and a sign that the market is starting to mature.

However, the amount of money that the shoppers who took part spent online during Christmas was much greater than what they spent in stores. This suggests that e-commerce continues to look attractive to retailers.

The report’s authors predict that retailers’ Web offerings need to improve to live up to the increasingly high expectations of customers.

Multi-channel retailing - especially where customers buy online, but pick the item up from a local store - could turn out to be one of the hot services of the year for retailers (see graph).

However, the report warns that systems must be put in place to cope with these services, or customers will end up disappointed.

The report states: ‘For retailers to respond successfully to the demand for multi-channel sales, they need to be sure that their channels are in sync, and that their bricks and mortar locations have the items in stock and the capability to handle volume demand.’

However, the price of getting it wrong is severe. The report found that 46 per cent of shoppers abandoned their online shopping carts before making a purchase. Some 20 per cent had such a bad online shopping experience that they vowed never to return to the site in question because of confusing or bug-ridden navigation.