Security concerns are proving a major barrier to the growth of e-commerce, according to a study by Gartner.

Gartner estimates that online sales to the value of $2bn were lost in 2006 because of concerns about malware and the theft of personal and credit card information.

After surveying 5,000 adults in the US, Gartner deemed $1bn to have been lost because of people refusing to shop online due to security issues, while etailers missed out on $913m because of existing online shoppers’ security concerns.

Gartner vice-president Avivah Litan said online financial institutions and retailers need to take steps to boost consumer confidence:

“Financial institutions and other e-commerce service providers need to beef up security in their online channel to retain customers, but they must be careful to keep the added measures relatively convenient.”

Gartner’s survey also picked up a distrust of e-mail, possibly due to viruses and malware.

Of those that expressed concerns, 70% said security concerns had made them wary of emails from unfamiliar companies or individuals. Eighty five percent deleted suspect emails without opening them.

Recent UK research has highlighted similar concerns – the government’s Get Safe Online study recently claimed that internet crime is feared more than burglary.