City firms proving to be a big hit on internet
Businesses in Belfast are among the most enthusiastic in the UK at embracing e-commerce, according to Google.
The city comes 12th in the internet giants's eTown Awards, which recognises towns whose businesses are actively embracing the web.
It said businesses were able to harness additional interest in Belfast, such as that generated by tourism.
A spokesman said: "The city has seen a 78% increase in people searching for bed and breakfasts in Belfast in the last five years, and tech-savy small business are taking advantage of the spike in interest to drive web traffic to their companies."
James Watson, owner of bakery Cakes By James which he set up with his sister Dawn in 2010, said 75% of their customers were finding it through its website.
He said: "Our website is key to what we do, boosting our presence in the marketplace and allowing us to compete with larger operators... thanks to online tools like Google AdWords, we've grown rapidly and moved into our own premises.
"I would recommend businesses of all types – regardless of their product or service – get online to take advantage of the internet marketplace."
Google said it worked with research firm Ipsos MORI to analyse the online presence of businesses in 1,300 towns, and those with the highest scores were given eTown status.
Patrick Leggett, sales director at Lisburn IT company Xperience, which advises companies on e-commerce, said the web enabled small to medium-sized businesses to reach new markets.
He said fit-out firm and client Alan Lewis Displays had set up website Equip-a-Shop, which it was now using for the sale of flat-pack signage, mannequins and other items for fit-outs. Around three-quarters of its sales were now conducted outside Northern Ireland using its website.
Mr Leggett added: "People are inclined to buy more when they are sitting at home with a glass of wine perusing the internet rather than if they go into a physical shop."
The top 12 eTown award winners were, in descending order, Stratford upon Avon, Edinburgh, Richmond, Stansted, Towcester, Bournemouth, East Marlow, Blackpool, Harrogate, Blaydon-on-Tyne, Newtown and Belfast.