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Companies are being urged to set up their own website if they are to take advantage of the 76 per cent of consumers who prefer to search for businesses on the internet, according to research by web hosting and domain name company easily.co.uk. The findings show that the internet has replaced business directories as the first port of call for consumers trying to find a business.

Accordingly, the company is warning small businesses that they risk jeopardising their future if they ignore the potential of the world wide web. Only 18 per cent of the 1,500 consumers polled relied on business directories such as the Yellow Pages and Thomson, with a further 6 per cent using directory inquiries.

Johnathan Robinson, director of business development at Easily, said: "These findings show that as the UK continues to embrace the internet, companies without a web presence will miss out on a significant number of sales leads. This need not be expensive. The benefits on offer far outweigh the small cost, and these days you can easily create an inexpensive and professional website."

UK businesses already on the net will also be pleased with the news that four out of five British consumers prefer to do their shopping on UK-based sites. This revelation - released by domain name firm Nominet - shows that reasons behind such parochial shopping habits stem from easier communication between the customer and the firm. 47 per cent of respondents were reassured that they could contact a UK company by other means.

Also, 34 per cent feel more comfortable purchasing from British sites as they are expected to adhere to UK trade laws.

Lesley Cowley, managing director at Nominet UK, said: "This highlights the importance, even for multinational companies, to have a localised domain name and the brand value attached for businesses competing for a share of fast-growing e-commerce revenues. Clearly the golden rule of 'think global, act local' is more than just a business cliché."

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