By Daniel Hunter

UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are collectively planning to increase investment in their digital capabilities by £53 billion over the next two years, prioritising their websites over mobile technologies, according to new research from Santander Corporate & Commercial.

The survey of SMEs reveals the average firm has committed £33,212 to digital investment in the past year, and intends to increase this by £28,224 in the next two years.

However, many firms are looking to invest significantly more: 8% of the companies surveyed estimated they had spent more than £100,000 on digital capabilities in the last year, while 6% plan to increase their investment by over £100,000 in the future.

Leading the way, the financial services and IT sectors have spent the most over the past year, and this is expected to continue. On average, IT companies have invested £46,429 in the last year, while financial services companies have each invested £49,500. Over the next two years, IT firms typically plan to increase this by £43,962, while financial services companies expect to spend £42,083 more.

Regionally, firms in London are set to invest the most at £42,925, which is significantly ahead of businesses in the Midlands in second place at £31,531. Businesses in the South West are, according to the research, looking to invest the least at £19,500.

Stephen Dury, managing director of SME Markets & Business Development at Santander Corporate & Commercial, said: “Investment in digital capabilities can significantly enhance business growth opportunities for small and medium-sized businesses. Just having a functional website can have a dramatic impact on a firm’s visibility and connectivity with customers and other stakeholders. However, while it is great to see that many firms are focused on this, the concern is that a significant number are still failing to invest effectively and are therefore missing out on these opportunities.”

Despite the growth of mobile technologies, traditional websites remain the top digital priority for SME owners, according to the research, with nearly three-fifths (56%) of firms saying their websites are making their businesses more successful. However, one-sixth (16%) of SMEs say they do not have a website at all, while just 34% can currently accept payments online, and only 13% host a foreign-language version of their website.

Just over a half (54%) of firms investing in digital capabilities are looking to develop their websites compared to just 16% who are launching digital apps. A further 13% plan to develop online payment facilities, while 10% will be launching websites for the first time and 10% plan to launch foreign language versions of their website to access new markets.