Internet shoppers are not taking advantage of the thousands of retail websites available, despite predictions that a record #7 billion will be spent online this Christmas, according to new research from Royal Mail.

Around 26,000 retail websites currently exist, but Royal Mail claims nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of online shoppers buy from less than ten e-retailers each per year, with the average consumer purchasing from just eight in the past 12 months.

Royal Mail claims that this is in sharp contrast with high street shoppers who show "more adventure" than virtual shoppers, visiting a larger and more varied number of stores.

Catherine Campbell, head of multi-channel retail at Royal Mail, said: "Online retail continues to grow at a phenomenal rate, but UK consumers are not taking advantage of the huge selection of e-retailers available to them.

"Despite the thousands of fantastic websites out there, shoppers are sticking to what they know and missing out on the convenience, choice and competitive prices that shoppers can take advantage of when they shop around."

The research also revealed that high street brands that are increasing their investment in their web operations are well placed to win a significant share of the thriving online market.

Royal Mails says that recommendations from friends and family is a key factor in encouraging nine out of ten people (89 per cent) to browse a website for the first time.

But 42 per cent said high street presence plays a part in tempting them to a website and a posted catalogue was a driver for 41 per cent of online shoppers.

Catherine Campbell added: "Our study shows that online retailing is fiercely competitive with thousands of retailers striving to get their share of consumer spend.

"And this competition is only going to get stiffer as high street brands increasingly invest in their online operations.

"This makes it essential that online traders ensure they offer a good shopping experience to retain customers but also put in place the right strategies to attract them to their sites in the first place."

The research also revealed:

* Scots lead the way in online shopping, having purchased from an average of 16 websites overall compared to just 14 for English and Welsh consumers.

* Overall, men have made more online purchases compared to women (16 compared to 12).

* Those with access to the internet at work have made the most purchases with an average of 16 overall.

>> Chris Tomlinson