Despite our modest size, the UK was the world’s 13th highest export nation in 2022.1 And the appetite of international consumers to ‘buy British’ shows no signs of slowing.
According to a Visa Global Merchant eCommerce Study, 87% of executives say their biggest growth potential lies with international online salesexpansion.2 And research from Barclays suggests that Indian consumers are willing to pay 11.8% more for British-made products, followed closely by shoppers in the UAE (10.9% more), USA (10.4%) and China (8.8%).3
Why are they so willing to part with extra cash? As Barclays Global Head of Trade James Binns says, “These consumers perceive British goods to be higher quality and better value for money, demonstrating international respect for UK-made products.”
There are plenty of benefits to selling your products overseas, but what are they and how can your business make the most of them?
- Increased revenue: Research shows businesses that export internationally grew by an average of 15.2%, compared to just 8.4% for those with a solely domestic focus.4 It sounds simple, but by opening up your business to more markets, you can reach more consumers than you would at home.
- Decreased competition: If you’re part of a crowded market in the UK, your products may have less competition in other countries. And having an international reach will give you an early-mover advantage over other companies that only trade locally.
- Better risk management: Exporting enables companies to reduce their vulnerability. International trading allows you to develop more streams of revenue, thereby minimising the risk of downturns in any one market affecting your business. This is particularly critical when trading domestically can prove challenging, such as during the UK’s cost of living crisis.
- Increased seasonality: If you’re selling barbecues, sun loungers or hot tubs, you might only be able to sell these in Britain during the summer months. But if you sell into the southern hemisphere, you can double the seasonality to include UK winter too.
- More brand awareness: 46% of executives in the Visa study also cited an increase in brand awareness as a key benefit of branching out internationally.2 And it’s a great opportunity to firmly position your brand overseas as ‘Made in Britain’, thereby maximising on the reputation and respect for UK products.
There are a few challenges to selling overseas that are important to consider when building out your export plan.
- Financial: There can be a short-term increase in costs while your business develops its export strategy, alongside an increase in resource. But these initial outlays can often be quickly recovered once you’re up and running.
- Market prioritisation: With so many countries to choose from, how do you decide where to sell into first? While it may be tempting to start offering your products to every country, it may be best to prioritise those you can serve easily and affordably, such as mainland Europe.
- Language: Though some say English is the international language of business, there can still be language barriers when selling to consumers. Selling into countries with lower proportions of English speakers, such as China (0.9% English speakers) or Brazil (5%)5 may require you to localise your website and marketing.
- Operational: The biggest challenge to selling products overseas is undoubtedly logistical, particularly as you’ll need to uphold the same great service you provide in the UK. You’ll need to pick international shipping and logistics partners who have local connections with your countries of choice; offer quick and reliable delivery times; can support your returns; and provide online tracking and proof of delivery so you can keep providing great customer service cross-border.
Going global spotlight: Weetabix
Weetabix Ltd is one of the UK’s biggest cereal manufacturers and has been making better breakfasts for over 85 years, creating well-known cereal brands including Weetabix, Alpen and Ready Brek. The wheat for each Weetabix is sourced from farms within a 50 mile radius of their head office in Burton Latimer, and the Northamptonshire mills currently export to more than 80 different countries worldwide. Weetabix has sold to Canada and the US since the late 1960s and, though the UK accounts for most of its sales, has now even been acquired by a Missouri-based holding company listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
It hasn’t always been easy for Weetabix overseas though, with the business failing to make a splash in China – where the habit of eating hot breakfasts, as opposed to cold cereals, is too entrenched in the local culture to shift buying habits. This is a great example of why understanding your markets is key to global success!
For those British businesses willing to overcome the challenges and make the leap, selling products to international customers can offer huge rewards – from new customers and increased revenue, to a brighter and more robust future.
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