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SME's waking up to the Internet

Government research published on Wednesday found that 29% used the medium for purchases, a big gain from 13% in 2002. With doubt about e-security disappearing and wider knowledge of the Web, the figure is likely to be much higher again this year.

However, the adoption and use of ecommerce varies according to businesses' size, said the report.

"The survey reaffirmed that larger businesses have greater ICT usage, but the use of ICT is typically growing faster among smaller businesses. This partly reflects the earlier investment in ICT by larger firms," said the Office of National Statistics.

The bulk of businesses selling online are retail firms taking advantage of the labour saving benefits that online purchases bring to both the business and the customer. Having an online capacity to sell is increasingly seen as a vital addition to retailers' sales armoury.

Meanwhile, the proportion of businesses with access to the internet also grew in 2003 - up 3% on the previous year - and the increase was more marked among small businesses.

In other findings from the survey:

·The number of people with access to the Internet at work rose from 6.5 million at the end of 2002, to 7.1 million at the end of 2003.

·One in four businesses used broadband as the primary method of Internet connection at the end of 2003, a rise from one in seven in 2002.

·Thirty-one percent of businesses reported having a website in 2003, compared to 29 per cent in 2002.

·Seventy percent of businesses used personal computers in 2003.

·The number of businesses using the Internet to interact with public authorities rose from 18 per cent in 2002 to 19 per cent in 2003.