By Claire West

Royal Mail has today unveiled a package of Christmas delivery initiatives, including evening and Sunday deliveries, to manage the online shopping boom expected this Christmas.

Royal Mail predicts it will deliver around 165 million items ordered online this festive season and has responded by putting together a package of initiatives to ensure the millions of online shoppers receive their items as quickly and conveniently as possible.

With around half the population of the UK now shopping online, it is estimated that a record £6.4bn will be spent in December during the run up to Christmas, according to IMRG. Throughout November and December combined, the total online spend will reach £12.4bn.

Royal Mail's Christmas delivery operation includes:

• Extra delivery rounds on the morning of Sunday 19 December, and between 6pm and 9pm on Wednesday 22 and Thursday 23 December to give customers a second chance to take delivery of parcels Royal Mail was unable to deliver during standard deliveries.

• Extending the opening hours of all Royal Mail's 1,400 delivery offices for 2 weeks beginning 13 December, increasing convenience for customers who need to pick up parcels and packets.

Royal Mail has already this year permanently extended the opening hours of almost 600 of its busiest delivery offices until 8pm on Wednesdays and 2pm on Saturdays to make it even easier for people to receive items that could not be delivered during the day, improving the overall delivery experience all year round.

And millions of Royal Mail deliveries are tracked from the warehouse to their doorstep, enabling consumers to monitor the progress of their item online, giving them peace of mind and the ability to better plan their day.

Mike Brown, Royal Mail's Fulfilment Director, said: "Royal Mail is prepared for its biggest online Christmas ever and has taken steps to help people get their items as conveniently as possible - even if they are not at home when we first try to deliver.

"The majority of items ordered online are delivered first time but we have put in place a package of measures to help people who are not home to receive the item, in cases where it is too big to go through the letterbox or requires a signature."

David Smith, Managing Director at IMRG, said: "Early signs are that online retailers will have an excellent Christmas. The IMRG Capgemini e-Retail Sales Index was up 23% year on year for October, as the online market continues to grow despite the economic situation. Royal Mail is putting in place some important initiatives to support this growth, which will really help boost the confidence that consumers can have in getting their goods in a convenient way."

Richard Adamson, eBay seller and director of said: "By extending their opening hours and offering extra delivery rounds, Royal Mail will enable me to offer last minute Christmas shoppers the opportunity to confidently purchase gifts up to the 23rd December and still get it on time. This means, as an eBay seller, I can increase my earnings by extending my sales period during one of the busiest times of year."

Royal Mail is also reminding customers to post their cards and parcels before the last recommended posting dates of Saturday 18 December for Second Class items, Tuesday 21 December for First Class mail and packets and Thursday 23 December for Special Delivery.