Britain’s digital businesses vital in quest to hit trade targets

Data contained in eBay’s Small Business Exports Index shows that of the 200,000 small digital firms trading on its UK marketplace nearly all fulfilled overseas sales in 2015, with each exporting to an average of 20 different territories.

This compares to just 28 per cent of businesses without an online presence

Chancellor George Osborne laid out his trade target at the 2012 Budget, but the latest ONS data puts UK exports at £515bn in 2015.

eBay’s study found that small digital businesses are keen to tap into global trade routes beyond the continent; as 52 per cent see “lands of opportunity” rather than risk in new markets. But businesses are currently avoiding an over-reliance on Europe as an exports hub; only one in three small digital firms consider Europe to be a key market.

The top five most popular destinations for British exports via eBay are to the United States and Australia, followed by European countries like Germany, France and Italy.’

The Index also found that an expansion of overseas trade features in 13 per cent of small digital business’s 2016 strategies, with two thirds pinning growth targets on successful foreign sales.

Kit Glover, Director of Professional Selling & Cross Border Trade at eBay said: “More small online businesses are expanding into new markets with increasing vigor and we’re seeing growing numbers of micro-multinational businesses emerging. These are agile businesses capable of selling to a global audience, without the infrastructure of a traditional exporter.
This creates a domino effect of job creation across different sectors, from manufacturing and services to procure more products, to logistics and delivery firms shipping more goods. This is good news for small business, and good news for Britain.”

Recent success stories include Oliver Margasson, owner of electrical goods specialists Electrolve, which exports to 127 markets from its headquarters in Grimsby, North Lincolnshire. Margasson said:

“Operating from our Grimsby warehouse, the business benefits from strong transport links and courier services; the kind of agile infrastructure from which we can quickly source and sell our products internationally. With consumers around the world getting wealthier, and governments investing in better internet access, our international trade has grown to account for 60% of total sales.”

Despite many success stories, small business owners are also calling for more Government support to make exporting abroad easier. Two thirds want more help than is currently provided, while one in four are put off exporting due to delivery and logistical challenges, and a further one in ten by language barriers.

Lesley Batchelor, Director General of the Institute of Export, said: ‘Many small businesses are often put off from exporting by difficulties ranging from tariff codes to cultural issues and language barriers. But to realise the Government’s ambitious target of £1 trillion exports by 2020, many more small and medium size businesses in Britain need to start selling their wares abroad.

That’s why we’ve set up Open to Export, a government-backed scheme that aims to make the process as easy as possible for British entrepreneurs. I’m optimistic that with a little help, our small businesses can help the UK grow into a true export powerhouse. To paraphrase Einstein, first we need to learn the rules of the export game, and then we can go out and play it better than anyone else.’