Amazon shoppers ordered 41 Christmas gifts every second

A science book that tackles life’s more trivial mysteries was the surprise Christmas hit, the online store Amazon said yesterday.

Does Anything Eat Wasps And 101 Other Questions – a collection of reader’s queries from New Scientist magazine – outsold last year’s festive bestseller, The Da Vinci Code, by two to one.

Ignoring the big scientific questions about the origins of life, the future of nuclear power and the ethics of cloning, the book concentrates instead on why people have eyebrows, how long someone can live on beer alone and why dogs howl at sirens.

Amazon revealed the seasonal bestseller after reporting a record Christmas in the UK, delivering up to 480,000 gifts a day in the run-up to the holiday weekend.

On its busiest day, shipped more than 256 tons of goods, with a Royal Mail truck leaving one of its three distribution centres every 15 minutes. The busiest day for online shopping was December 12 when shoppers ordered 3.6 million items – 41 every second.

Amazon’s record year mirrored good sales for almost all online retailers. Earlier in the month the e-retailers body IMRG reported a 50 per cent year on year rise in sales in the 12 months to November 2005.

Amazon’s second best-selling book was Is It Just Me Or Is Everything Shit?- a rant against everything from Richard Curtis to the Daily Mail by Steve Lowe and Alan McArthur, followed by Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook, Jamie’s Italy.

Madonna topped the store’s music sales with her Confessions on a Dance Floor album, followed by Now That’s What I Call Music! 62 and Intensive Care by Robbie Williams.

Amazon’s consumer electronics division was dominated by sales of MP3 portable music players and accessories. The ILogic docking station for iPod music players was the bestseller.

On the high street yesterday shoppers’ appetite for bargains appeared undiminished as many stores reported brisk trade. However, the freezing weather and return to work for many people had an impact on numbers. Following a record Boxing Day, Brent Cross shopping centre in north London reported customers queuing six deep outside Marks & Spencer on Tuesday morning,.

Brent Cross’s head of marketing Norman Black said: “That is something we have not seen before at Brent Cross, bearing in mind the sale started the day before.”

Crowds queuing in the bitter cold outside Harrods yesterday were treated to a glimpse of Kelly Brook, the 26-year-old actress, who opened the winter sale. The store was expecting to sell around £10 million worth of goods in 12 hours.

The Trafford Centre in Manchester also reported a busy day with 25,000 people in the stores by 11.30am. It was a similar story at Sheffield’s Meadowhall shopping centre. A spokeswoman said: “Retailers are reporting that their trading is up against last year and those coming to the centre are spending more.”

The snow was a deterrent in the East and North East. Karen Carr, the marketing manager at the Metro Centre in Gateshead, said between 55,000 and 60,000 people had been in the centre by mid-afternoon, behind last year’s tally of 118,000.

She blamed the weather as a “hindrance”, but said numbers were still expected to top 100,000.

The latest figures from the analyst FootFall confirmed that stores were busy for their second day of sales.

On Tuesday, the number of visitors was 6.5 per cent higher than the same Bank Holiday Tuesday in 2004 and 1.9 per cent higher than Monday 27 – the second day of sales last year.

Natasha Burton, the marketing manager at FootFall, said visitor numbers were up eight per cent on the first two days of the sales compared to 2004. “After the lacklustre Christmas build up, this shows that prudence is definitely the watchword for this year’s shopper,” she said.

“After the final months of 2005 which saw a reluctance to spend on credit and rising household bills, it seems the reduced prices and offers of the sales are what shoppers have been waiting for.”

Throughout December, footfall was down around 5 per cent on the same period last year.

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