One third of UK SMEs risk losing out on vital export opportunities, Alibaba reports

UK businesses could be missing out on important export opportunities and the chance to grow on an international scale, according to new research released today from Alibaba Group.

The study of more than 2,000 UK businesses found that nearly a quarter (23%) do not export goods overseas. Amongst SMEs, this figure rises to one third (33%).

Almost half (48%) of the UK businesses surveyed said exporting internationally is a viable opportunity for their business – but are concerned about the challenges of cross-border trade.

The biggest perceived barrier to trading abroad is increased paperwork and customs rules (28%), followed by supply chain issues (26%) and concerns about payment security or late payments (25%).  Meanwhile, a fifth (20%) of businesses surveyed highlighted a lack of cultural awareness and familiarity with overseas markets.

Against this backdrop, the findings show that 38% of businesses require additional country-specific exporting information to help them expand and succeed on the global stage. Over a third (38%) of respondents say professional advice from an export advisor would enable them to export overseas, while 38% believe they would benefit from more government support. 36% say overseas marketing information would help them fulfil their export potential.

Amongst UK businesses surveyed that do currently export overseas, almost 4 in 5 (78%) say they expect their export sales to increase in the next 12 months. Amongst businesses focused on B2B exports, this figure rises to 81%.  

92% of businesses surveyed are working with online marketplaces to boost their export sales, with 68% saying it’s a key part of their export strategy. More than half (54%) are conducting more international sales online because it is more cost effective, while 49% have made the switch so they can reach more potential buyers. These findings would suggest that online marketplaces are lowering the potential barriers to export.

Roland Palmer, general manager of UK, Nordics & The Netherlands, Alibaba Group, comments: “While it can be daunting to enter a new market, the opportunity for UK businesses to ‘go global’ could have a transformative impact on their future growth. By trading internationally, businesses of all sizes are able to expand, potentially creating more job opportunities and economic growth.

Once a business starts to export, they often find the benefits outweigh the perceived barriers and they grow in confidence. We’re focused on helping UK businesses of all sizes on their export journey.”

In a post Brexit-world, UK businesses surveyed say North America (42%) represents the biggest export opportunity followed by the Middle East (32%) and South/Central America 27% respectively.

Shalini Khemka CBE, founder and chief Executive, E2E, said: “The economic instability brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted several supply chain flaws and cast doubt on globalisation. As a result, business owners worldwide reconsidered their organisations’ flaws, vulnerabilities, and innovative processes.

There is one factor that is usually overseen when it comes to successful importers and exporters: meaningful connections and advice. We’ve made it our mission to support entrepreneurs internationalising their businesses.”