Northern Ireland businesses are ambitious for international growth and see exporting as key to their success, according to new research from Alibaba Group UK, in partnership with Institute of Export and International Trade.
The study of more than 3,000 UK businesses found that 72% of businesses across Northern Ireland are currently exporting. Over two thirds (69%) of Northern Ireland business owners surveyed expect their export sales to increase in the next 12 months and Belfast based businesses in particular believe that exporting has made them more resilient, with 84% saying exporting has made their business stronger.
Over four fifths (84%) of businesses in Northern Ireland said exporting has boosted their revenue. However, beyond the economic benefits of exporting, the research from Alibaba indicates the far-reaching positive impact on Northern Ireland businesses:
- 81% of respondents said exporting had fuelled innovation within their companies
- 87% of businesses said they had increased their headcount as a result
- 71% said exporting had relieved the pressure of doing business in the UK
When it comes to export markets, Northern Ireland businesses are looking close to home. Nearly a third (29%) regard the UK’s nearest neighbours in the European Union (EU) as the market which presents the biggest export opportunity. In addition to the EU, South/Central America (29%) and North America (26%) are viewed as presenting the biggest export opportunities.
Despite the positive outlook, many businesses perceive challenges that could stand in the way of their export ambitions. The top five biggest export barriers cited by Northern Ireland businesses are listed below:
- Economic uncertainty
- Increased paperwork and red tape
- Supply chain and logistical issues
- Recruitment challenges
- Production capacity
For businesses focused on international growth, 56% of Northern Ireland based businesses surveyed are currently using online marketplaces to boost their export sales. A fifth (20%) started working with a marketplace during the pandemic, with the pandemic providing a strong impetus for businesses to adopt digital tools.
Roland Palmer, General Manager of UK, Nordics & The Netherlands, Alibaba Group, comments:
“Our research suggests that Northern Irish businesses are seizing the global export opportunities and see export as a route for growth, innovation, job creation and resilience.
“At Alibaba we offer opportunities on our marketplaces for businesses from Northern Ireland to export to the whole world. We are thrilled to come to Belfast together with the Department for Business and Trade to discuss with local businesses how they can join and how we can support them to get started. Digital transformation and online marketplaces such as Alibaba.com provide new opportunities for Northern Irish businesses to trade overseas and to start punching above their weight.”
Marco Forgione, Director General of Institute of Export and International Trade, added:
“This research confirms what we have long known – that exporting firms are more sustainable, profitable and resilient – but also sheds light on some of the many challenges that prevent businesses from exporting at all or exporting as much as they could.
“The whole trade community needs to work together to combat and reduce these challenges. IOE&IT is committed to promoting trade as a force for good and doing all we can to help every business start or expand its export activity, regardless of size, sector or home market.”
Alibaba.com were in Belfast on 13th June for a series of export events taking place at the Department for Business and Trade, and spoke about how Northern Irish sellers can unlock global export opportunities using the platform.