A large number of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the UK are missing out on international sales by failing to utilise their digital channels, according to new research.

The study by Barclays revealed that 72% of SMEs overlook customers in global markets by not using social media to market their goods overseas, assuming English is understood worldwide to focus solely on UK sales.

Whilst a number of businesses use online platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to attract domestic custom, around half use the same channels to attract customers abroad.

This means businesses could be missing a key export opportunity to boost not only brand awareness, but market share and profitability by not ‘internationalising’ their digital channels.

Steve Childs, head of international at Barclays Business, said: “A website or Instagram page can be your shop window to the world, delivering growth and bigger market share with minimal costs.”

SMEs in the UK said that the main reason they don’t use social media to target international customers are because the UK is their biggest market.

However, among those surveyed, the third most popular reason for not targeting markets abroad was the lack of interest in exporting abroad and the fifth top reason was that business owners had never thought about exporting abroad.

Mr. Childs added: “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”.

On popular social media platforms, such as Facebook and Twitter, two thirds (66%) use Facebook for attracting UK customers compared to the 31% who do the same for international customers. Over a third (36%), market themselves to UK consumers through Twitter, but only 17% do the same with shoppers abroad.

Overall, Facebook topped the poll as the most used channel that SMEs use to market to both domestic and international customers, ahead of their own website or Twitter.

Although small businesses aren’t marketing their goods and services overseas, new figures suggest that the number of SMEs exporting to South America has almost doubled in the last five years.

Nineteen per cent of SMEs in the UK said they had exported to South America in 2016, an increase from just 11% in 2011.


By Elena Hector

Originally pubished on Fresh Business Thinking

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