Online sales of beer, wine and spirits increased 37.3% year-on-year in November as Brits stocked up early ahead of Christmas.

That made BWS the second best performing online category after health and beauty, which saw sales shoot up 43.9% compared to November 2018.

The figures are part of the IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of more than 200 retailers.

Overall the online retail sector enjoyed year-on-year growth of 16.4%, and sales were also up 54% on October 2019.

Andy Mulcahy, strategy and insight director at IMRG, said: “After a year of very weak demand online, the November result is little short of exceptional. The uplift in revenue during Black Friday week was very strong at plus-11.7%, but actually growth was sustained across the whole month.

“There was a trend for retailers starting their campaigns earlier in the month this year and shoppers seemed to respond readily. However – while this is undoubtedly positive news, it would seem odd if retailers suddenly experienced consistently strong Christmas trading after such a poor year. Since November captured a high share of sales volumes, will shoppers have anything left to buy in December? Early anecdotal evidence suggests December trading was very subdued in the first week – how is it going to balance out overall?”

Another research organisation, IWSR, has just released a report called A Blueprint for Success in the Ecommerce Space for Alcoholic Beverages.

It analysed online BWS sales in 10 countries and found overall growth of 15%, which is well above total growth of just 1% for all BWS sales in those markets.

It predicts that UK ecommerce retailers will continue to see strong growth in BWS sales over the next five years.

Almost half of UK consumers purchase alcohol online at least once a week and they also tend to have more loyalty to their online retailer rather than brand, said IWSR.

It highlighted US whiskey, Prosecco, flavoured gin and craft beer as the top performing BWS categories in the online channel right now.

Emily Neill, chief operating officer for research and operations at IWSR, said: “Our research also shows that at the simplest level, sales of alcohol online in the UK are divided between sales as part of a regular grocery shop, and dedicated purchases specifically of alcohol, often as a treat for oneself.

“Retailers are also increasingly using tools to help consumers navigate to the products they will like, including step-by-step selectors, recommendations based on previous orders, as well as chat support.

“We’ve also found that UK consumers are becoming more educated, and more curious, about what they drink and the internet allows retailers to sell a very wide range of product, to meet this broadening demand, without needing huge warehouse space.

“The overall impact of market trends and growth insights lead us to believe that the volume of alcoholic beverage sales across UK ecommerce platforms will increase by over 7 million cases in the next five years, which will be notably greater growth than the offline market. That’s why it’s so important for brands and retailers alike to pay attention to this research if they want to realise that potential.”