By Jonathan Davies

We might still be trying to cling onto the last remnants of summer, but attention is quickly turning to Christmas for many businesses.

New research points to just how important being digital is for small businesses this Christmas. Figures from Sage Pay suggests that small and medium sized businesses (SMEs) will lose out on £88bn over the Christmas period if they're not online.

With Sage Pay’s research also indicating online spending over the festive period will hit a record £13bn for the first time, the need to be online is greater than ever before.

As the country emerges from an eight year recession and UK consumer confidence booms, many retailers across Britain are already gearing up to make the most of the spending spree. Selfridges opened its Christmas floor more than two weeks ago, while data from previous years suggests many Brits are already thinking about buying gifts online, with more than 2.7 million eBay searches for ‘Christmas’ expected in August.

With record festive spending expected this year, and the online retail sector as a whole predicted to grow by 17% over the course of 2014, the growth opportunity for small businesses is huge. However, only 10% of UK SMEs are currently online. This has left most small businesses unable to take advantage of consumers’ loosening wallets not just at Christmas, but all year round, opening a gaping hole in the British economy.

“With record online spending predicted for Christmas 2014, it’s never been more important for small businesses to be online,” said Simon Black, CEO of Sage Pay. “Most larger retailers are already preparing themselves for Christmas, and if independent merchants want to capitalise on consumers’ confidence, they need to follow suit and begin preparing too.”

“That starts with making sure your website and payments systems are optimised for the high volumes of traffic experienced on Cyber Monday. However, an alarming amount of UK SMBs are still not online. This will have a serious business impact not only for Christmas, but in the longer term as the exponential rise in online spending continues.”

Ranjit Singh, Commercial Director at art materials stockists Cass Art, said: "At Cass Art, we pride ourselves on making art accessible to all. However, we realised that unless we had an online presence, we were missing out on serving a huge customer base across the UK. This was significantly restricting our sales opportunities, particularly around the Christmas period.”

“Our site went live just before Cyber Monday last year and we were surprised by the huge increase in sales. We saw our transactions rise by over 100%. This year we have prepared early for the hike in web traffic and sales, and already have our strategy in place. Our advice to businesses would be to prepare for Christmas as early as you can!"