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Monday, 26 June, 2000, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
UK 'e-commerce leader'
computer user in internet cafe
To the web surfer, all firms looks the same , whether they are big or small
Small and medium-sized firms (SMEs) across Europe are calling for more government help to go online, and say the UK is the continent's e-commerce leader.

A pan-European survey commissioned by internet service provider Nextra suggests that just one in four firms believes that governments are doing enough helping them to move their business into cyberspace.

However, there are stark differences between countries as to whether they want to get the government involved at all.

In Italy, the UK and Hungary, three quarters of all firms questioned want their government to help them exploit the opportunities of e-commerce.

In France, less than a fifth want government help, with Norwegian, Swiss, Swedish and Austrian firms similarly distrustful of official intervention.

UK e-commerce leader

British firms may be among the most vocal calling for a government-driven e-commerce push, but their European colleagues believe that they already have the online edge.

About 29% of those questioned believe that the UK is ahead in its adoption of e-commerce, while 26% voted for Germany and 15% for Sweden, while the rest are also-rans.

In most countries, firms seem to benchmark themselves to foreign competition, with a majority believing that they are playing catch-up with competitors abroad.

Only in Sweden are firms convinced that they are well ahead. 76% believe their country has the edge, while just 7% fear that they lag behind their European rivals.

Security fears

Just like online consumers, many small and medium-sized firms say that the unresolved matter of secure transactions is holding back e-commerce. 62% warn that security concerns are slowing down the adoption of web based trading.

But the survey throws up other pointers as to what could hinder the online shopping revolution from taking off.

Only 15% of the firms interviewed update their web site daily.

Another issues are tax laws. Across the continent, two thirds or more of companies are calling for a harmonisation of European tax laws to ease cross-border e-commerce.

Nonetheless, a clear majority of SMEs believes that the internet will allow them to achieve "e-quality" with their larger competitors.

The research was undertaken in May by NOP Solutions. 825 companies were questioned in France, UK, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Italy.

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