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More small retailers than ever have a presence on the internet, according to a new study from ecommerce firm Actinic, which shows that a quarter of small and medium sized retail companies in the UK now have their own website, up from just secen per cent last year.

The study also found a five per cent increase to eight per cent in the number of businesses providing customers with a method of ordering and paying online.

Overall, however, the report reveals that retailers, even in the midst of the current slowdown in high street spending, lag behind other sectors in understanding the profitability of having a web presence.

Those firms that are trading online boast a profitability of 70 per cent, Actinic said. "[This year] may prove to be the year when ecommerce finally comes of age," said Chris Barling, chief executive of Actinic.

"But there is still a long way to go before the percentage of businesses trading online comes anywhere near the percentage of consumers who are shopping online.

"Many small businesses are still missing out on a huge opportunity - and at a time when traditional retail is under increasing pressure."

Also encouraging, however, is that 13 per cent of companies said they plan to launch a website in the future, while nearly a half of those already online planning to expand their site.

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