Yorkshire ‘trailing behind in online exports’

Ian Harris CEO Search Laboratory. Picture: Simon Dewhurst
Ian Harris CEO Search Laboratory. Picture: Simon Dewhurst
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Yorkshire’s industries are lagging behind in taking advantage of international selling opportunities online, according to the CEO of an internet marketing agency.

Ian Harris, chief executive of Leeds-based Search Laboratory, says that traditional industries such as manufacturing should embrace international e-commerce opportunities as “it’s a major way of getting your products and services out abroad”.

Speaking to The Yorkshire Post, Mr Harris said: “There’s not many clients going international in Yorkshire. I’m not saying that Yorkshire is particularly bad for this, what you find is that it’s certain pockets of industry that are really leading this, so fashion is one.”

One sector which is lagging behind in international e-commerce is manufacturing, but that isn’t down to a lack of interest in exporting.

Mr Harris said: “They seem to go abroad in a different way. They’ve got trade missions, they’ve maybe got some kind of trade already. They don’t seem to lead the charge with digital marketing.”

Search Laboratory recently launched a white paper in London which found that 62 per cent of UK businesses believe they are missing opportunities in the global e-commerce market but, despite this, many are failing to properly optimise their business offering in international markets.

The report also found that despite 83 per cent of businesses stating that online offerings have been important to their overseas growth, one area they are failing to meet the needs of international markets is in the languages used to display their products, with only 33 per cent of those trading digitally abroad doing so in the local language.

As well as language cultural knowledge is also important. Mr Harris said: “It’s all about building up trust and to build up trust you’ve not only got speak the same language but you’ve got to behave the way that they do.”

Mr Harris said that businesses aren’t held back by a fear of things going wrong but how hard it can be.

Last week it emerged that the Government’s trade body, UK Trade & Investments (UKTI), is to be overhauled in an effort to boost Britain’s flagging exports.

UKTI chief executive Dominic Jermey served just 16 months in the role before leaving for a new post in the Foreign Office last month and has been replaced by Catherine Raines, director general for UKTI in China, a spokesman confirmed.

The upheaval came as latest figures showed the biggest fall in exports in nearly a decade.

UKTI has appointed a new international digital trade adviser for companies in Yorkshire and the Humber, Brett Harland.

He has worked in communications for over 25 years across a broad range of sectors, with the past 11 years spent working in digital.

Mr Harland said: “My role is a consultative one and designed to help deliver incremental revenue to SMEs, medium-sized businesses and export-ready companies in Yorkshire and the Humber, through targeted digital, e-commerce advice. The purpose of the advice is to increase the global digital footprint of UK brands, by responding to consumer-led demand around the world and in turn helping these organisations increase revenue and turnover.”

Search Laboratory, which provides digital marketing in multiple languages, presented the findings of its report at the Go Global conference. The fact that the firm held the conference in London is a telling sign says Mr Harris.

“We did it in London and there was probably one company that came down from Yorkshire. A lot of the international e-commerce stuff is happening down South. We seem to be lagging behind a little bit up here,” he said.

Google delivered a keynote speech at the conference on the size of international markets.

Britain leads way in e-commerce but fails to look at global picture

Uk businesses lead the way when it comes to the percentage of e-commerce they do, but there are bigger international markets that need to be tapped into.

Ian Harris said: “One thing that the people don’t know is the percentage of retail that happens online in the UK, the percentage online versus offline, is almost double anywhere else in the world. Germany is one of the closest competitors and we’re almost double German percentage of e-commerce.”

But the sizes of markets in places like the US and China are much greater.

He added: “We’re really, really good at e-commerce because it’s very competitive over here.”

This competitiveness gives businesses an edge once they do enter the international e-commerce market he said.