The overwhelming majority of businesses across Europe (92 percent) admit they are not ready for the introduction of the EU Digital Single Market, according to new research commissioned by Ricoh Europe. The Digital Single Market is set to be the most game-changing European regulation this decade, yet millions of businesses currently stand to miss out on its benefits and let an estimated €415bn contribution to the European economy pass them by.

Only half of businesses (51 percent) have heard of the EU’s proposed Digital Single Market, which is due to come into force at the end of 2016 and will standardise Europe’s online marketplace so that the same content, products and services are available at the same prices anywhere in the EU. Awareness of the proposals is at its lowest in The Nordics (28 percent), Belgium/Luxembourg (29 percent) and Portugal (30 percent), according to the survey of 1,360 business leaders from across EU states.

The low levels of awareness and preparation are particularly worrying given that only seven per cent of EU SMEs currently sell across borders; a figure which needs to be increased if the European economy is to thrive . Most European businesses (65 percent) say they intend to expand to other countries in the continent over the next five years, but unless they embrace the Digital Single Market these ambitious growth plans are unlikely to be realised. Companies from Austria, Hungary and The Nordics are the most likely to have plans to expand outside of their own country by 2020.

Most respondents thought that there would be several benefits from a digital single market, in particular, an increase in the number of customers from the EU (chosen by 56 percent of respondents), the opportunity to access new European markets (chosen by 52 percent), as well as increased internal efficiency in their own business (44 percent).

However, 24 percent of companies surveyed don’t believe there will be any benefits resulting from a digital single market, and many have concerns about its impact on their business. 40 percent of businesses claim they are not ready for the increased competition a digital single market will introduce, while 37 percent are afraid of its cost implications, and 34 percent believe they lack the resources to capitalise on the opportunity. A third also believes there will only be more regulation for the sake of it.