COMMENT: Why China’s ecommerce boom is great for British retail

As its market evolves, opportunities continue to emerge for UK retailers to sell their goods online to Chinese shoppers. Writing exclusively for Retail Gazette, Trade Minister Baroness Rona Fairhead explains ways in which the government is making it easier for retailers to crack the lucrative Chinese market.

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China ecommerce

China is one of the largest and fastest growing ecommerce markets in the world. The country now has one billion internet users and increasing numbers of people are using mobile devices to shop on-the-go.

As the market evolves, opportunities emerge for UK fashion brands and retailers to sell their goods online to Chinese shoppers.

Online marketplaces make it easier for small businesses to sell goods and services to global customer bases, leading to the rise in a new, digital “iStreet”, according to a report by international payment experts WorldFirst and the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr).

They also estimate that iStreet sellers contributed £11 billion to UK exports in 2015 via sales made on online marketplaces.

While businesses see rapid growth and increased revenue from online exporting, separate figures show less than 11 per cent of British businesses export, suggesting there is room to take further advantage of overseas markets.

When looking at potential growth markets for British fashion retailers, China seems an obvious choice – it is a top 10 destination for the export of British goods.

Recently, the country has become the world’s second biggest economy and this growth brings increased demand for fashion and retail goods.

I hear from many businesses that the sheer size, scale and complexity of the Chinese marketplace can be difficult to navigate. Issues of intellectual property (IP), logistics and routes to market can discourage many would-be exporters. That’s why the Department for International Trade (DIT) is supporting British businesses in making the most of their exporting potential.

In 2014, DIT launched the e-Exporting Programme, helping UK retailers and brands accelerate their global growth through online channels. Working with some of the world’s leading online marketplaces such as Amazon, Newegg and Rakuten, companies can apply to sell their products to international customers and access negotiated discounts, created exclusively for DIT clients, via the Selling Online Overseas Tool on GREAT.gov.uk.

As part of the programme, DIT deploys ecommerce advisers across UK regional offices to support companies with their online export strategy. These advisers are crucial in advising on IP, best routes to market for business, regulations and trade barriers.

One example of how the department has provided support is through our work with Royal Mail in promoting British brands on their store, which features on Chinese online marketplace, Tmall. Nearly 700 UK products took part, including retailers such as Cow and Gate, Waitrose and Ella’s Kitchen.

Businesses can also receive support through the UK’s credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF). They provide financial support to help companies sell to international customers.

Earlier this week UKEF announced the launch of a new partnership with five major high street banks, helping small business access millions of pounds in government-backed trade finance directly from their bank in seconds.

This means UK small-to-medium enterprises (SMEs) can easily access the funds they need to increase their exports, grow their revenue and sell their products around the world by speaking to a local bank manager. Through their support, UKEF has helped 221 UK companies sell to 63 countries around the world and nearly 80 per cent were SMEs.

The digitalisation of the retail industry means operating across multiple channels and geographies has never been more important or attractive. The implementation of these technologies in emerging markets provide extraordinary export opportunity for UK businesses.

Additionally, this week I am leading a business delegation to Shanghai to attend the Chinese International Industrial Fair, where the UK is Country of Honour. The event will showcase the fine British products we have to offer to Chinese buyers.

At DIT, we want to work closely with you to help you boost your profile, grow your business and achieve exporting success.

Baroness Rona Fairhead is the Minister for Trade and Export Promotion

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