Ninety two percent of small firms now use computers to carry out their business, according to the latest NatWest Survey of Small Businesses in Britain. What’s more, half of all businesses surveyed are now networking their computers together, meaning that they can gain access to shared files and documents on every computer in the office.
The survey also shows that the next big thing for small businesses seems to be wireless technology, where computers can be networked without the need for wires. Nearly a fifth of small businesses have already embraced this relatively new advancement and that figure is set to double in the next year.
Even more striking than the rise in the use of computers themselves has been the explosive growth in the use of internet email. In 1996, 14% of small firms used internet email, yet only eight years later that figure has jumped to 82% and a further 2% of small firms intend to start using it within the next year. Firms in wholesale (93%), manufacturing (91%) and businesses services (90%) are most likely to use internet email, whereas those in retail (62%) and agriculture (63%) are least likely.
Nearly two thirds of small businesses actually take advantage of the web and have their own website. However, as many as a fifth had failed to update it within the last year.
Despite some concerns about high set up costs (11%), security (9%) and a lack of appropriate skills (8%), over a fifth of small retailers already use an online payments service, and 11% of all respondents report that they plan to give their customers the ability to purchase goods online by the end of 2004.
This looks set to grow even more in the next few years with the introduction of cheaper online payments services specifically geared towards the small trader, such as NatWest’s FastPay service.
Jeremy Rudge, Head of NatWest E-Commerce, said: “Using technology can definitely give your small business a competitive advantage. Having a website opens your doors to thousands of customers, so it makes sense to provide them with an easy way to pay for your products online, rather than waiting for a cheque to arrive in the post. It is now easier and cheaper than ever to set up a secure online payment service.”
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