Online wine sales are bucking a wine market decline in the UK, according to figures obtained by just-drinks, as researchers tip the category for further growth.

UK retailer Majestic Wine yesterday (15 June) announced a 16% rise in online wine sales for the year to the end of March, compared to a 2.4% rise in net sales across the group.

Online sales may help to reverse last year's decline in wine sales across the UK of 1% in value and 2% in volume, according to market research group Mintel.

"There is real scope for online wine producers to prosper," a Mintel spokesperson told just-drinks today, citing the group's UK Wine 2009 report. "Unlike purchasing clothes, which people like to try on, it is convenient to bulk order wine and have it delivered to your door."

Mintel added: "Online suppliers can also include trial bottles of wine with the order, to educate drinkers about different varieties and encourage them to broaden their tastes."

Mintel's report does not contain specific figures for online sales.

Majestic told just-drinks today: "I think overall the online market for wine generally has continued to show a great deal of strength." 

The group said that its retail business model, where consumers purchase wines by the case, "lends itself very well" to online selling. 

"We are increasingly focusing on things that we can do in ecommerce, which can enhance our offering as well as simply replicating it…and we have focused on making our website more interactive," the spokesperson added.

Accurate figures for total online wine sales in the UK are hard to obtain, but one player with a big share of the market is Tesco.

The retail giant, which claims to be responsible for 40% of all UK online wine website visits, told just-drinks today that online sales are up 8% year-on-year. Online now accounts for 5% of all Tesco wines sales, it said.

Around 472,000 wine orders were placed online over the last 52 weeks, with the Tesco Wine by the Case website being visited 6.5m times over the same period.

Online sales are also up ahead of the wine market at the TheDrinkShop.com, which claims to be the UK's fifth largest online wine retailer, citing website viewing data from Hitwise. Sales to consumers have risen by 9% for the year-to-date, compared to the same period of 2008, the group said today. 

A spokesperson for Tesco said that its own success is partially down to "improvements to the system".

She said: "What they [Tesco] have done, particularly with regards to delivery options, is where previously it was a few days for delivery…one of the new introductions has been offering next day delivery and they found that since offering that, half of customers are now choosing next day.

"It's quite interesting, and there are statistics that say most wine bought is drunk within the next few hours, so given the option, customers are still preferring to get it as soon as possible.

"The website is also an educational information resource and Tesco tries to have as much extra information and details on the producers just to help people out, even if they just use it as a resource and then go in store to buy."

Waitrose has also experienced success in the category, with on-line wine sales up by 50% year-on-year to the end of last week. The retailer put it down to a '25% off all wines, sparkling and fortifieds' promotion from 3 to 9 June. 

"Up to the week before the promotion began, sales were up by 21%, so it is still a large increase on last year, even without the promotion," a spokesperson said.

Online retail sales in all product categories rose by 25% in the UK in 2008, according to the Interactive Media in Retail Group, an industry body for the internet retail sector.