UK plc takes European online lead

UK business is adopting ecommerce at the same rate as the US and Canada, according to government research released today.

A new survey has revealed that 27 per cent of businesses in the UK are trading online, putting the UK ahead of Germany and Sweden, and on a par with the US and Canada.

The number of UK companies online this year is 81 per cent, up from 63 per cent in 1999. The Department of Trade and Industry’s (DTI’s) annual report distinguishes businesses ‘trading online’ from those ‘being online’.

The DTI definition of ‘online’ is when a business uses external email frequently, has a website or uses electronic data interchange (EDI).

Findings show that 1.7 million small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are now online, up from 600,000 in 1999 and surpassing the government target of getting 1.5 million online by 2002. Those trading online account for less than a third.

The regions are also embracing ecommerce, according to the survey. Findings showed that about 75 per cent of businesses are online in almost all the nation’s regions. Northern Ireland saw the highest growth rate for companies online, up 32 per cent from 43 per cent last year.

UK ecommerce minister Patricia Hewitt said: “This year’s report shows business across the UK has embraced information and communication technologies, and is seizing the opportunities ecommerce presents.

“We must continue to build on this and work towards our target of getting one million SMEs trading online. The challenge for business now is not simply to get connected but to succeed in the online world using the new ebusiness practices.”

The news contrasts with two recent reports into the state of ecommerce in the UK. In a study by accountancy firm Grant Thornton, the majority of UK smaller businesses were found to be “failing to embrace technological advances”. And in a report by incubator Xworks, UK small businesses were found to have little idea about the internet.

The latest report comes at a crucial time for the government as it steps up its search for a replacement for Alex Allan, the country’s first e-envoy.

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