Global survey reveals online exports boom driven by British SMEs

While SMEs in the UK saw their international PayPal sales rise 10 per cent year-on-year from January to June 2016, the rate of growth trebled to 34 per cent year-on-year from July to December.

For British businesses as a whole, there was an uplift in PayPal sales to online shoppers visiting from overseas, but the biggest impact was seen on small and medium-sized businesses. The amount international shoppers spent with UK SMEs rose 13% per transaction in the last six months of 2016.

According to PayPal, online SMEs were well equipped to navigate the unpredictable market conditions following the EU referendum result. Mark Brant, Managing Director at PayPal UK, explains: “When the pound dropped and the buying power of international shoppers increased, we expected to see a surge in online exports. Of course lower prices played a major part in boosting international sales, but there were many other contributing factors. The small businesses that were best placed to benefit from the influx of international shoppers were the ones who had already adapted their online stores – for example by letting customers browse in their own language, and pay in their own currency.”

PayPal’s data shows that tens of thousands of UK SMEs started to sell online to a new country between July and December 2016. The top 5 online export markets for British SMEs during that period were the US, followed by Germany, Australia, France and finally Italy.

Customers from all five of the top markets are typically attracted to new and exclusive products that are only available from the UK. Fashion and sports were the two categories of online business that experienced the highest growth. Overall, there was a 49% year-on-year increase in fashion and sports goods sold to international shoppers. is a successful outdoor fashion retailer that uses PayPal to accept payments from its international customers. Based in Lincolnshire, Ian Bristow, founder and co-owner of, said: “We have seen our international sales jump since last July with the business opening up to many new countries, and as a result significantly accelerating our international growth. It’s a really exciting time for us. We feel like we’ve become a global company over the last six to nine months. We were seeing some interest from overseas customers before but now we have truly global reach. As a result, we are taking payments in more currencies than ever before.”

PayPal helps British businesses grow their international sales by giving them access to 200 million potential customers worldwide. Mark Brant adds: “Trust is crucial in winning new customers online. It becomes even more important if you’re trying to appeal to overseas customers who may be unfamiliar with your brand. Customers around the world recognise and trust our logo, so adding the PayPal button at checkout can improve sales for lesser known businesses. What’s more, our customers in countries like the US, Germany and Australia know that if they’re not happy with their purchase, PayPal can cover the cost of returning it to the UK.” *

PayPal offers its business customers expert advice on cracking international markets at a dedicated website. PassPort helps business owners better understand and target international shoppers through country-specific guidance and global sales tools.