Melinda Kirkwood started out simply, by selling her daughters’ outgrown party dresses on eBay. But eight years on, she and husband Stuart run a £1m turnover business, Zest Clothing, selling clothes, shoes and accessories to customers in more than 100 countries around the world.
Last year some 15% of those sales came from export, helping Zest Clothing over the £1m turnover milestone.
“We’ve seen a dramatic rise in sales to Australia in the last year,” said Stuart. “The other things we do well with is children’s clothing to eastern Europe.
“I think people are wanting to become more western and have aspirations to dress their children more in western clothing. Buying clothes through eBay from UK sellers is one of the ways they do that. It does make sense but isn’t something you’d necessarily think of.”
The couple are among a growing number of eBay traders now finding sales through markets around the world. The online marketplace recently commissioned research among 1,000 online businesses, asking them about their markets. The resulting report, produced by FreshMinds Research, found that 58.3% have exported more since 2007 while almost half (49%) expect to rely increasingly on overseas sales in the future.
Many are looking far afield, since it is to the emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, dubbed the BRICS countries, that some 37% of those surveyed are looking for growth. That because, according to 58% of those questioned, the Eurozone crisis means there’ll be fewer opportunities for growth within Europe.
Some 59% of the online businesses quizzed had already exported to Russia in the last year, while a fifth expected China to be the most important export market after Europe by 2013.
More than a quarter will be looking still further afield to CIVETS countries (Columbia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey and South Africa) to expand their customer base.
Angus McCarey, UK retail director, eBay, said: “In today’s connected world, businesses no longer need to rely on one market for their income. International trade is more accessible than ever and online businesses in particular are perfectly placed to make the most of selling overseas.
“Cross-border trade represents a massive economic opportunity for the UK and we know that over half of high exporting businesses (59.3%) are confident about the next six months compared to only two fifths (40.7%) of low exporting businesses.”
But, argues McCarey, it’s important for businesses, especially those that haven’t exported before, to get help in doing so. It has issued a call for policymakers to improve the advice and support available for businesses looking to expand their sales overseas. Half of the businesses questioned said their most useful advice on selling overseas would be from friends and colleagues, while only seven per cent said they would contact the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills and six per cent would turn to UKTI – the Government’s main export arm.
According to research findings, a third (34%) of those businesses that export only low volumes are likely to see the complexity of legal and regulatory regimes as a barrier to boosting export sales, compared to less than a quarter (23%) of high exporters. Some 42% of low exporters cite a lack of trust in foreign shoppers compared to only 24% of high exporters, and almost twice as many low exporters (24% versus 13%) see a lack of understanding of foreign markets as a hurdle when selling outside of the UK.
“Government and policymakers must do more to ensure services and organisations are equipped to provide expert advice on exporting to all businesses, but especially to those businesses that haven’t given it a go before and are often held back by a simple lack of understanding,” said McCarey.