Fear May Be Preventing Companies from Taking Plunge into eCommerce; ADVERTISING FEATURE - THE INTERNET: Even the Smallest of Firms Can Get Help to Use Low-Cost eBusiness Techniques

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THE internet is all around us these days, with over 10 million UK households now online and 48pc of British firms reported to have their own websites.

Businesses the length and breadth of Wales have already taken the plunge by beginning to trade electronically, and many appear to be prospering as a result.

Sadly, the number is not yet great and the proportion is believed to be lagging well behind the UK average.

One internet enthusiast - Pembrokeshire firm Coast and Country Holidays (CCH) - has been so successful in the two years since it launched on the web that it now gets some 40pc of its lettings through that route.

Co-owner Rachel Thomas said, "The results of marketing on the web have been phenomenal. We have been absolutely delighted."

So, if a business in rural Pembrokeshire can make such a stunning success of the internet, what is holding others back?

Is there a psychological barrier deterring firms from dipping their toes into the internet pool?

Is it fear or ignorance, or perhaps a bit of both, that results in a substantial core of businesses being averse to grasping the internet opportunity.

People through the ages have always feared what they couldn't see, and distrusted what they didn't understand. Both of these problems apply to the internet.

Businesses and individuals are clearly impressed by the power of the internet to deliver any amount of information to or from anywhere on earth within seconds - but they are still far from sure exactly how it all happens.

People will take some things on faith, while with others they need convincing. For example 91pc of firms in a recent Wales Management Council survey indicated that they use email and 84pc even said they had their own website. But only around one in five were deploying the Net in more sophisticated commercial ways.

Some commentators acknowledge that fear still plays a part in dictating the pace of internet application in Wales.

Tony Powell, of the Graduate Teleworkers Initiative (GTI) at the University of Glamorgan, believes internet phobias are based around a general fear of something new plus other specific worries such as cost, lack of knowledge, breakage, loss of privacy or accidentally pressing a wrong button.

Mr Powell said, "People can sometimes face these fears by confronting them head-on, at internet classes for example.

"It is a bit like someone who has vertigo forcing themselves to go up a tall building.

"Other people come along to classes, not because they are particularly interested in the internet per se, but because they fear being left behind by this new, all-pervasive technology."

Mr Powell says he has seen ephobia transformed into an almost evangelistic zeal in some people while, for others, it was a case of waiting for the internet to come to them.

Fears seem to range from the purely functional, like anxiety about having to manage increasingly complex networks, to logistical worries about how to trade online, the cost of setting up, security, privacy and shortage of the right skills to handle the system.

The fears also cover areas such as the possibility of loss of control of the business or staff as the world of eCommerce envelopes the firm and worries that managers will become detached and distant from customers.

There are also concerns about the impact of eCommerce on a firm's traditional business, with anxiety that the existing set-up won't cope with a sudden surge of online trade.

The best approach seems to be to take expert advice and then to start small and build up gradually, thus avoiding the fear of having the whole show crash down around your ears. …