eBay for Small Business

SMEs outperform the market as eBay fuels half a billion pound UK export boom

Online firms buck economic downturn, exporting everything from Swiss watches to Switzerland, mince pies to Montserrat and Marvin Gaye CDs to the Vatican

Online SMEs reaped the rewards of a half a billion pound UK export boom in 2010, according to new figures released today by online marketplace eBay. Overseas sales by SMEs dramatically bucked the economic downturn, accounting for £446 million on the site in 2010 – a massive increase of 128% since the credit crunch in 2007 compared to only a 20.5% increase in exports in the wider economy over the same period[1]. The figures come just after the Prime Minister David Cameron declared at the World Economic Forum in Davos that exports were central to the Government’s strategy to rebuild the UK economy.

According to the data, fashion is the most popular export category, accounting for 12.5% of the total – up almost a quarter (23.5%) over the previous year. Other major categories include vehicle parts and accessories (9.8% of all exports), toys and games (4.8%), health and beauty (3.1%) and home and garden (2.9%).

The figures reveal that the top export markets for online firms are the United States (£65.8 million), Australia (£42.9 million), Germany (£39.4 million), Ireland (£39.9 million) and France (£33.8 million). However, newly industrialised countries [2]are taking on growing importance, accounting for £21.6 million in SME exports in 2010 – a rise of 64% in only a year and up 314% since 2007.

The sheer range of items exported by online retailers is illustrated by the fact that in 2010 sellers on eBay exported:

  • £4.4 million worth of Swiss watches, including over £63,000 worth to Switzerland.
  • £389,000 worth of kilts and £70,000 worth of bag pipes. Two-fifths of the kilts and a third of the bag pipes were sold to heritage hungry Americans.
  • £653,000 worth of Doc Martens, with over £99,000 going to Germany, homeland of the eponymous Dr Klaus Märtens.
  • £424,000 worth of wellington boots, including £31,500 to Australia.
  • £270,000 worth of bikinis, including £15,800 to sunny Spain and £14,000 to Malta.

In fact, the data shows that online businesses are using eBay to export practically everything including mince pies to Montserrat, a musical potty to American Samoa, a camping stove to Svalbard and two copies of Marvin Gaye’s Let’s Get It On to the Vatican.

Clare Gilmartin, Vice President of European Marketplaces at eBay, said: “Despite the economy continuing to suffer from faltering domestic demand, many businesses are proving it is possible to defy the economic gloom and achieve recession-busting growth and profitability through exports. More and more small businesses are joining the 160,000 currently on eBay in using the internet to access overseas markets at low cost, breaking free of the cycle of weak consumer demand in the UK. Thanks to the internet, global markets are now within reach for small firms and via eBay, they are accessing an unrivalled global customer base of over 90 million active users.

“With the economy continuing to suffer, it is essential that the Government does all it can to help small firms to exploit the export opportunity. Our figures show that four thousand firms are already raking in at least £10,000 a year in exports, but if we want to boost the economy, we need to build on that success.”

According to eBay’s Online Business Index, 88% of business on eBay export goods overseas. Recent research by Parcelforce shows that some 84% of non-exporting firms have given up on trading overseas because they believe the barriers are too high, despite the fact that almost half (43%) believe they could benefit.

Bryanne Melville, owner of Carse of Gowrie Kilts and Kiltmaker, enjoyed success exporting to both European and American markets through eBay. Bryanne said: “I specialise in selling handmade kilts, sporrans and accessories, so was initially shocked to find there was a market overseas for these items. I now export a large percentage of my stock to America. The international appetite for traditional items like these is great, as it means quality handmade Scottish items like ours are being worn around the world and are bringing vital foreign income to the UK.”

Tayyab Akhlaq, whose business My1stWish has an annual turnover of over £2.2 million through eBay, has been expanding his customer base into international markets. His largest exports are wellington boots – an item worth £444,022 in export sales in total on eBay in 2010. Tayyab said: “I have had more access to international markets as a result of trading on eBay, and now have plans to expand my business and perhaps even open bricks and mortar stores in countries such as Russia and the Ukraine. I am known as the ‘Welly King” by my competitors, as I have had great success exporting funky welly boots from the UK. The site has allowed me to sell huge amounts of stock overseas by giving me tools to trade in different languages, and I now sell boots to between 60 and 70 countries.”


For more information please contact any member of the eBay team at Blue Rubicon at ebay@bluerubicon.com or call 0207 260 2700

[1] Total trade in goods, Value of UK trade in goods and services, Office for National Statistics.

[2] Brazil, China, India, Malaysia, Mexico, Philippines, Russia, South Africa, Thailand and Turkey.

Notes to Editors:

Supplementary information:

Top ten SME export markets



1. United States


2. Australia


3. Ireland


4. Germany


5. France


6. Italy


7. Spain


8. Netherlands


9. Canada


10. Belgium


Top fifteen export categories


Percentage of exports

1. Clothes, Shoes & Accessories


2. Cars, Motorcycles & Vehicles


3. Vehicle Parts & Accessories


4. Jewellery & Watches


5. Computing


6. Toys & Games


7. Consumer Electronics


8. Collectables


9. Mobile & Home Phones


10. Sporting Goods


11. Clothes, Shoes & Accessories


12. Cars, Motorcycles & Vehicles


13. Vehicle Parts & Accessories


14. Jewellery & Watches


15. Computing


Examples of obscure items sent to obscure countries

  • A Comtech satellite modem sold to Afghanistan
  • A Fisher Price fun to learn musical potty sold to American Samoa
  • Assorted Dick Francis novels sold to Benin
  • Inspector Morse, Complete Season 5 sold to Cook Islands
  • A set of sporks sold to Djibouti
  • Two packs of Mr Kipling Mince Pies sold to Montserrat
  • A 64GB iPad 3G sold to Senegal
  • A Coleman camping stove sold to Svalbard
  • 50 Christmas crackers sold to Tonga
  • Two copies of Marvyn Gaye, 'Let's Get It On' CD sold to Vatican City

About eBay.co.uk

· Founded in 1999, eBay.co.uk is the UK’s number 1 e-commerce site, providing a platform for over 17.7m unique visitors per month (Nielsen / Netratings, August 2010) to buy and sell new, unique and used items in a fun and easy way.

· Far from an online auction house, eBay currently has over 30 million live listings on the UK site, with fixed price goods accounting for the majority (60%) of items sold globally.

· Sellers of all sizes, including 160,000 registered businesses and over 30 high-street retailers use eBay.co.uk to reach the UK’s largest online shopping audience.

· eBay supports buyers and sellers by promoting the best value deals through Daily Deals, and the eBay Outlet sells products from well known brands at up to 70% off the recommended retail price. Follow www.twitter.com/eBay_life4less for alerts to great deals on eBay and beyond.

· eBay campaigns on the issues affecting buyers and sellers in a number of ways, including the eBay Online Business Index and consumer choice campaigns as featured on http://consumerchoice.eu/uk/

· eBay.co.uk is owned by eBay Inc, which has expanded to include some of the strongest brands in the world, including eBay, PayPal, StubHub, Shopping.com, and others.

About Parcelforce Worldwide ‘Barriers to Export’ study

Results from study (released 31 January) reveal:

· Perceived export barriers prevent 84% of non-exporters from trading overseas

· Almost half (43%) of non-exporting firms believe they could benefit if they did export

· Of non-exporting firms, 46% believe exports could boost revenues by more than 10% in the coming year

· One in four (24%) non-exporters believe exporting would be prohibitively expensive

· One in three (32%) non-exporters claim they wouldn’t know which export markets to target

· 35% of non-exporters perceive their goods to be unsuitable for export