Scottish SMEs yet to fully grasp digital and export opportunities

Doug Gurr

A YouGov survey published today by Amazon reveals that Scottish small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) are struggling to grasp digital and export opportunities to help grow their revenues.

Over half of Scottish SMEs (59 per cent) say they do not use e-commerce to sell their products and services, of which 90 per cent say they have no plans to use e-commerce in the coming year. However, of those that do use e-commerce, 40 per cent said they plan to increase the use of it to grow sales in the next 12 months and 30 per cent say online selling will be important to their future growth.

Scottish SMEs in the retail sector and start-ups in their first year of trading show the strongest digital adoption, with 74 per cent of small retailers and 44 per cent of start-ups saying they use e-commerce to sell products and services.

The survey also finds that only 23 per cent of SMEs in Scotland are currently exporting, with over three quarters (76 per cent) saying they do not currently export at all.

By contrast, SMEs who do export focus primarily on the EU and overall forecast a net increase of four per cent in export volumes in the coming year. SMEs in manufacturing (56 per cent), marketing and advertising (48 per cent) and retail (33 per cent) show the greatest take-up of export opportunities, whilst 94 per cent of SMEs who export say they use e-commerce to sell goods and services abroad.

“The findings show there’s still a fair degree of hesitation from SMEs in Scotland about selling globally and adopting great use of digital, despite the huge opportunities they bring,” said Doug Gurr, UK country manager, Amazon. “Last year we saw tens of thousands of UK businesses achieve £2.3bn in exports by selling around the world on Amazon. At the same time, a recent report we commissioned showed that UK rural businesses alone could add £15bn in annual turnover through greater digital adoption. That’s why we’re in Glasgow tomorrow – to show SMEs small and large, urban and rural – how selling online can help boost revenue, exports and productivity.”

The survey was published ahead of the Amazon Academy, a free event designed to equip Scottish SMEs with the skills they need to compete in a constantly growing digital economy. Several hundred small businesses and entrepreneurs have already registered to attend, looking to grow their businesses through digital tools and services are expected to attend the event at the SECC in Glasgow on Tuesday, 17 April.

The Amazon Academy in Glasgow will include sessions from industry experts including Scottish Enterprise, Enterprise Nation and the Department for International Trade (DIT), alongside independent experts and successful Scottish entrepreneurs. These include Michael Corrigan of Trtl, who sells travel pillows around the world, Chris Forbes of Cheeky Panda, who makes sustainable tissue products from bamboo, and Karen Riddick of Second Nature, a fair-trade home furnishings company, who will share their personal stories of digital trade success.

“Over half of our sales occur on Amazon Marketplace and this is growing,” added Michael Corrigan, founder of Trtl. “The UK remains our largest market, followed by Germany, but the rise in ecommerce has allowed us to expand as a Scottish business at a faster rate was previously possible.”

Emma Jones, founder small business support group Enterprise Nation said: “There’s no doubt there can be dramatic fiscal benefits to be had for those businesses that adopt e-commerce.  That’s because, not only can they increase their competitiveness, brand awareness and see sales growth, but by embracing digital tools in general, they can also experience increased productivity, with technology doing more of the legwork.”

Thousands of small businesses have attended Amazon Academy events in Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester and London since the programme launched in 2016. The Glasgow event is the first of three Amazon Academies to take place around the UK in 2018 – with events also being held in Cardiff and Newcastle later in the year.

Businesses keen to grow online still have time to register for the Amazon Academy here.

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