SMEs fail to make online sales to buyers based abroad » SMEInsider

SMEs fail to make online sales to buyers based abroad

Many of Britain’s smaller businesses trading online are missing out on a potential windfall by failing to sell to buyers based abroad. But how can British SMEs tap into foreign markets?

Research by Worldpay analysed transactions made by thousands of British SMEs and found the average company makes just 11 per cent of its online sales to non-UK registered credit and debit cards. This represents up to £150 million in additional annual revenue to hard working SMEs.

A small but significant number (17 per cent) are already starting to break away from the pack, making more than 20 per cent of sales to foreign cardholders, proving growth in this demographic is obtainable. But 14 per cent of British e-commerce SMEs made no sales at all to foreign cards in the last year, making them vulnerable to savvier competitors with a strategy for selling abroad.

Worldpay’s data shows that the U.S. is the most fruitful hunting ground for SMEs, accounting for 19.2 per cent of all online foreign card sales. Other English speaking countries including Ireland (8.5 per cent) and Australia (7.3 per cent) have also proven to be lucrative markets for SMEs with international aspirations. Forty-three per cent of all foreign card spending came from shoppers within the EU.  However, high-potential growth markets in the Middle East and BRIC countries comprised of home-sick ex-pats and discerning shoppers searching for high quality British goods, are still largely untapped.

SME’s can start tapping into foreign markets by addressing a few key areas in their business strategy.


“British businesses are famed the world over for quality and fantastic service, and this hard-earned reputation is something all of our SMEs should be taking advantage of,” said Dave Hobday, Managing Director of Worldpay UK.The internet is the great leveller and with e-commerce sales booming small business owners could find themselves dwindling next to the competition if they limit themselves to just one market.”

“Going global doesn’t have to be complex or expensive. Social media in particular has made it much easier for small businesses to market themselves on an international stage.”

For example, British SME’s can use social media channels such as Weibo in China to forge local links with shoppers.


“We’re also getting a lot of enquiries from businesses who want to add multi-currency to their site or customise their payment pages in different languages to encourage international business,” Hobday added. WorldPay has 23 different languages to choose from for companies who are unable to offer foreign language websites on their own.


The key reason that there is so much innovation in the payments sector at right now is that that payment processes are unnecessarily fiddly, especially online. In order to stop customers abandoning their purchases at the last hurdle, SME’s need to make sure that products are priced in local currencies and that they accept all major credit cards. With mobile traffic on the rise, businesses need to Use mobile payment pages on your website, so they don’t miss out on shoppers using mobile devices and tablets.

Businesses must also list shipping costs clearly on their website to avoid shoppers abandoning their purchase.  It is also a good idea to calculate any added extras such as import taxes and duties for customers, so they have a great shopping experience when they buy.

Finally, if a product is uniquely British don’t be afraid to highlight it, says Jane Malyon, founder of The English Cream Tea Company.

The company is based in Essex and specialises in delivering the authentic cream tea experience and treats by post and courier. Fuelled by worldwide interest in the Royal Family and iconic programmes such as Downton Abbey the company has gone from strength to strength and in 2013 grew by 500 per cent compared to the previous year. It now regularly receives orders from as far afield as America, Canada, Australia and China.

 “On the first day we opened for business we received enquiries from five different countries, which instantly showed us the potential sales we could secure from overseas shoppers,” Malyon said. “Our international customers are now playing a big part in our growth strategy. I’d urge Britain’s SMEs to do everything they can to get sales from abroad and take advantage of Britain’s reputation among foreign shoppers. They would be mad to miss out.”