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UK high street clueless about Web

Failing shareholders and customers alike by playing the ostrich

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The UK's top retailers have been slammed for ignoring for e-commerce - and middle-aged senior managers with little or no understanding of the issues are being blamed. Seven of the top 20 retailing groups in the UK have no Web site while only four companies mention e-commerce in their latest annual reports. According to Quidnunc, the London-based software consultancy which carried out the investigation, the research has uncovered a "strategic black hole at board level" as UK retailers prefer to stick their heads in the sand rather than face up to the potential of the Internet. Dixons, WH Smith and Arcadia faired reasonably well, but other high street giants -- including Marks & Spencer, Debenhams and House of Fraser -- all did poorly. "By neglecting the opportunities presented by the Internet, UK retailers are failing their shareholders, limiting their potential for growth, and ignoring the advice of every analyst in the business," said Laurence Holt, chairman and CEO of Quidnunc. Any criticism that Quidnunc's research may not hold up to close scrutiny was quickly dispersed today when David Keen, finance director of Next said that anyone who wanted to buy clothes on the Net was "sad." "It's pretty sad to want to spend ages looking at blouses download [on the Web]," he told today's Daily Telegraph. He said the company -- which scored a measly 4 out of 44 in the eReadiness study -- had no plans to put its catalogue on the Web or engage in ecommerce. Yesterday, Next announced that its pre-tax profits for last year fell by 9.3 per cent. No one from the UK's largest retail body -- the British Retail Consortium, which doesn't have a Web site either -- was available for comment this morning. ®

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