Research from Epson today reveals that nearly one in three UK small businesses (32%) see e-commerce channels as a threat, suggesting they may miss out on their share of the £13.4bn that will be spent online in the UK this holiday season.

While 78% of UK micro businesses sell products or services online, the UK still lags behind other European nations in its adoption of e-commerce, according to the research conducted by Coleman Parkes, which surveyed 1,250 owner/managers in companies with 1-10 employees across 5 European countries.

Far more micro businesses in Italy have an ecommerce presence (94%). Only 59% of UK micro businesses see e-commerce channels as a business opportunity, compared with 72% of micro businesses across Europe.

The IMRG predicts that the period between 28th November to 11th December, will be particularly busy for online shopping this year and those small businesses which have invested in e-commerce could see a rise in sales.

However, the research reveals a lack of understanding amongst small businesses on how to use social media for marketing and other business purposes, which could limit their exposure to business opportunities this Christmas.

While a surprisingly high proportion have a company Twitter profile (60%) and one in three (31%) have a company Facebook page, 42% of UK micro businesses have no idea where to start when it comes to using social media for online/digital marketing. Only 25% of micro businesses feel the playing field had been levelled through social media to help them compete with larger players.

Sara Murray, founder of Confused.com and personal emergency response service Buddi, comments: “While it is encouraging to see that most of the UK’s micro businesses are now involved in e-commerce in some way, it is concerning that so many still regard the area as a threat. In the midst of this busy shopping period, understanding how to harness social media, combined with the increasing popularity of e-commerce, should offer micro businesses an avenue for growth which they can’t afford to ignore.”

It is surprising that 22% of UK small businesses do not yet sell their products or services through e-commerce channels. Coupled with a successful social media strategy, e-commerce channels provide compelling opportunities for micro businesses and start-ups to boost their reach.

Growth among small businesses is vital for the UK economy so it is important we encourage more small businesses to embrace the potential of online sales opportunities.

The findings come in the wake of a new initiative from the Government to offer UK start-ups greater understanding of the web through the launch of Web Fuelled Business Initiative seminars, a series of free e-commerce schemes for more than 3,500 firms to run from January to March next year.

Phil McCabe, Senior Policy Adviser from the Forum of Private Business, comments: “Rather than seeing e-commerce simply as a threat, small business owners should investigate every opportunity to grow and promote their businesses through appropriate online channels – so we’re pleased to see the Government is helping them to become more web savvy.”

“We believe that social media does hold a great deal of potential for many SMEs. Its conversational, real-time nature makes it ideal for entrepreneurs and small, dynamic firms. Also, sites like Twitter can provide valuable and cost-free feedback on customer and client satisfaction,” he concludes.