UK SMEs could be missing out on international sales

UK SMEs could be missing out on international sales by not ‘internationalising’ their digital channels, research finds.

The top five reasons given by UK small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) as to why they are not using social media to target international sales include that the UK is the company’s biggest market, and that what works in the UK will work just as well overseas, according to a study by Barclays.

No interest in exporting abroad, feeling that English is an international language and thus there is no need, and having never thought about exporting abroad, completes the reasons why companies do not engage in international trade.

The poll also finds that while a number of businesses are using online platforms like Facebook and Instagram to attract domestic custom, when asked if they use the same channels to attract overseas customers, this falls by as much as half on average. This means businesses could be missing a key export opportunity to boost not only brand awareness, but market share and profitability.

Marketing to overseas customers

Just 28 per cent of SMEs use a website to market themselves to overseas customers. On other digital channels, such as Facebook and Twitter, a similar picture emerges. Two thirds (66 per cent) use Facebook for attracting UK customers compared to the 31 per cent who do the same for international sales.

More than a third (36 per cent), market themselves to UK consumers through Twitter but only 17 per cent do so with shoppers abroad. Overall, Facebook tops the poll as the channel that SMEs use to market to both domestic and international customers, ahead of their own website or Twitter.

Steve Childs, head of international at Barclays Business says, ‘A website or Instagram page can be your shop window to the world, delivering growth and bigger market share with minimal costs. With more consumers shopping online, business owners are missing out on sales if they aren’t using or tailoring their digital platforms and targeting international e-marketplaces to attract customers abroad.

‘Worse still, by not understanding your target market you could even be putting off customers through unintended translation or currency errors.’

Further reading on exporting

Ben Lobel

Delphine Hintz

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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