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Get with the program

Small businesses lag behind in technology stakes

There is a serious digital divide between small and large businesses, according to a study of UK retailers released today by the Department of Trade and Industry.

While 77 percent of large retailers said they were using PCs to help run their business, over half (56 percent) of convenience store owners admitted they hadn't even thought about buying a computer.

"E-business technologies offer a wealth of benefits. In order to exploit these we must create the right culture throughout the business community so that firms of all sizes can seize the competitive advantage," said Stephen Timms, e-commerce minister.

Despite Timms' protestations, these results don’t surprise PC Advisor as most business purchases are dictated by economics and larger companies generally have more money to spend on IT equipment and training than their smaller counterparts.

"We have thought about setting up a website to generate more custom but the equipment, training and the setup costs are just out of our price range," said Alison Cowell, manager of London-based flower shop Some Occasions.

For many small retailers it is not just the cost that poses a problem, but their own technophobia, too.

"I've been running a business for 30 years and I simply don't need a computer. It's too late in life for me to be spending money on equipment that will make my job more complicated," said Mike James, manager of Gold, a small London jewellery shop.

The DTI's UK online for business
initiative, which partners industry and government experts to advise small businesses on the benefits and opportunities of technology, still has some way to go.

"I don't really even know what technology is available," added James. "And I don't have a clue where I could go for help if I did want it."

On a more positive note, 71 percent of those 350 retailers questioned said they could be emailed by customers, while 53 percent had their own website.

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