Online sales can open the door to export markets

Online sales can open the door to export markets

Not all exporters need to have a network of shops or offices around the world in order to sell their goods or services, and ecommerce will be a key focus at the ScotExport 2017 conference in Glasgow on 31 October.

When Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the world wide web while working at the Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire (CERN) in 1989, few entrepreneurs could have foreseen the dramatic effect that his creation would have on their businesses. The web has been at the heart of bringing down barriers to trade, allowing companies to export their products and services online through electronic commerce or “ecommerce”.

One in five companies within the European Union used ecommerce during 2015, according to official figures, with online sales accounting for 16% of their combined turnover. Businesses of all sizes are trading online, with 42% of large companies making online sales, compared with 18% of small firms.

The UK has been at the heart of the growth in ecommerce. Back in 2005, 44% of Britons reported ordering goods or services online, with the total rising to 79% by 2014.

“All predictions are that more and more products of increasing complexity will be purchased via a browser or app in the future,” explains Hayden Sutherland, a director of Glasgow-based online business consultancy firm Ideal Interface. “You only have look back at the types of products bought online just a few years ago – cheap, simple, off-the-shelf, branded and easily packaged, such as books and CDs, which is how Amazon started off.

“But now practically everything gets bought online, including complex, expensive, bespoke and considered products, from cruise packages through to tailored fashion clothing and hand-made furniture. So, in my view, the ecommerce future for Scottish companies is very bright and Scottish companies should be no different to any other in the UK when it comes to online selling.

“There’s still huge opportunities to sell products and even services to customers in the UK, Europe, North America and even further afield. Whether you come from the suburbs of London or the shores of Loch Ness, it is possible to sell to the global village of 3.2 billion online users, which is about 40% of the world’s population.”

Scottish Enterprise’s ecommerce workshops are a great starting place for companies that are new to online sales. Topics due to be covered at the seminars in the coming months include: cyber security; digital strategy; ecommerce and marketplaces; ecommerce surgeries on the future of the web and search engine optimisation (SEO); increase your international sales online; and international Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).

Scottish Enterprise has also teamed up with other organisations and businesses to deliver ecommerce training. Back in May, the economic development agency was one of the partners for the Amazon Academy at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, at which free advice and practical support were given to help small and medium-sized businesses to grow through ecommerce and exports.

When it comes to overcoming hurdles, Scottish Enterprise has also gathered experts to offer advice to companies that want to avoid any ecommerce pitfalls. One of the major questions raised by businesses that want to start trading online is about the cost of setting up a platform.

“Try out your international ecommerce using existing marketplaces such as Amazon and Ebay,” suggests Stephen Whitelaw, an independent ecommerce consultant based in Scotland. “You can begin to develop your ecommerce this way without any major investment. You’ll gain market knowledge and business understanding that will ready you for expanding through your own ecommerce platform.”

Gori Yahaya, a director at Upskill Digital, a Google delivery partner, adds: “When it comes to choosing an ecommerce platform you need to select the one that is right for you and your business. It will depend on what you are selling as different platforms offer different product templates.”

Security is also another key consideration. “Both PayPal and Worldpay are recognised in many countries around the globe and are therefore good choices for payment systems,” says Whitelaw, while Yahaya also highlights Google’s “certified shop” mark in the UK, which is known as “trusted store” in the United States.

Appearing high up the rankings on search engines is another crucial factor. “Get great relevant, fresh, up-to-date and unique content on your website,” advises Whitelaw. “There are more than 200 factors that influence Google’s placement of your company in a search engine, but up at the top of the list is content.

“Google will penalise you if your content is copied from another site, so write your own content. Add new content, such as blog content frequently and ensure it is relevant to your product or service.”

Search and book your place on the Scottish Enterprise ecommerce workshop series at