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‘Northern powerhouse’ of online businesses revealed in eBay research

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A northern powerhouse of online businesses is outperforming the UK average in digital retailing, a new report suggests.

In particular, Greater Manchester has a greater concentration of small online businesses than anywhere else in the UK, according to a study by eBay’s Public Policy Lab. Researchers from law firm Sidley Austin LLP analysed eBay data to identify digital clusters across the country, and especially in Manchester (pictured) and nearby Lancashire and West Yorkshire. Inner London, which includes Shoreditch and Tech City, is in 26th place, according to a study methodology that worked out ‘digital densities’ based both on the number of small online retail businesses operating in a region, and their sales as a proportion of the local population.

The study also found that more than half (51.8%) of the UK’s small online retail businesses are ‘global,’ exporting to four or more different continents. That’s more than any other European country, and is followed by France (50.6%), Spain (41.9%), Italy (34.6%) and Germany (19.6%).

Almost all (91%) small businesses on eBay in the UK now export abroad, compared to 28% of traditional offline small businesses. The number selling to 15 countries or more has grown by 33% since 2010.

Sarah Calcott, director of operations at eBay UK , said: “Our research shows that technology is opening up tremendous opportunities for small businesses across the UK with digital clusters spread across the country, particularly in the North West and Yorkshire.

“At eBay we’re working hard to ignite the entrepreneurial spirit of small online businesses, providing them with the tools and the flexibility to export millions of British goods abroad, despite lacking the infrastructure of a traditional exporter. Our technology is now breaking down barriers to global markets by allowing small businesses access to products and services that were once the preserve of large firms, such as smart shipping, international payments and translation, and using our global market to access millions of potential customers.”

Case study: PF Jones, Greater Manchester

Family-run business PF Jones was founded in July 1958 by Percy Frederick Jones. The Manchester-based business originally sold diesel injectors and fuel pumps.

In 2009, PF Jones added to its four bricks and mortar branches (in Manchester, Stoke on Trent, Buckley and Wigan), by launching an online store on eBay with the intention of increasing the firm’s customer base and boosting profits.

Since then, the company’s eBay turnover has doubled, causing them to expand their premises to cope with demand. Today PF Jones completes on average 100 to 150 transactions a day. Its eBay store has also created jobs, with five people now employed to solely manage the company’s eBay business.

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