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Survey: Internet usage among small business owners on the rise

September 12, 2000

Small businesses in South Carolina are using the Internet at an increasing rate, according to a survey conducted by a Coastal Carolina University student and professor.

The results of a survey mailed to 500 small businesses in the state, with 72 businesses responding, indicate 69.44 percent are using the Internet, but only 1.28 percent of their business is conducted online. According to the study, the majority of small businesses in South Carolina are primarily using the Internet to display company information and have not yet fully integrated into online ordering, payment tracking and acceptance. The study was completed as part of an honors thesis by recent Coastal graduate Robin Turner under the direction of Darla Domke-Damonte, assistant professor of management, marketing and law in Coastal's E. Craig Wall Sr. College of Business Administration.

Also, 52 percent of the companies responding had developed their Web sites with the help of an outside consultant, while 24 percent reported that they had developed their Web site themselves and 24 percent reported that they had used an online service. Based on their experience with their Web presence, 56 percent reported that they expected to expand their online presence, while 40 percent indicated they would scale back their Internet presence. Only four percent indicated that they would close their physical location and only use the Internet. Companies indicated that significant payoffs have not yet been realized from their online presence.

"This perception may be due to the fact that these businesses, with a mean length of time online of only 1.76 years, are in the early stages of the learning curve," says Turner.

For those small businesses without an Internet presence, 81 percent indicated that they did not anticipate developing an Internet presence within the next five years. Lack of manpower was cited most frequently as a primary impediment, and lack of infrastructure and security problems were also cited as significant barriers to entry.

Small businesses without an online presence felt that going online would be more important to their business than those companies with an established online presence.

"Those firms who are already involved may see the Internet presence as being as much a part of their organization as their marketing or production skills and no longer see it as really providing the organization with a unique advantage, while those without the internet presence may be uncertain as to exactly what they are missing, and therefore consider it to be especially important," says Domke- Damonte.