November 6, 2017
Guest post by Kris Beyens, VP and COO of eBay EMEA
Racing to keep up with a rapidly evolving digital world can be exhausting for everyone, and when you’re just starting out, it is even more important to find that competitive edge.
For digital businesses, whether that’s an artisan baker in L’Aquila, Italy, or a car parts business in Birmingham, UK, being able to easily access a large, global online market is critical.
As the digital world rapidly evolves, making use of online marketplaces like eBay is increasingly integral to the success of Europe’s diverse community of small retail businesses, based anywhere from country villages to capital cities. It’s like putting your goods into a virtual shopping centre or high street, where you will have a regular stream of visitors and window-shoppers.
The contribution that small businesses make to the European economy as a whole cannot be overemphasised. This year, the European Commission estimates that 99% of all businesses in Europe are SMEs, and it recently stated that companies of this size provide over two thirds (67%) of total employment for the region.
With almost half of Europeans now viewing e-commerce as the best way to become an entrepreneur, it’s no exaggeration to say that supporting small online businesses will help boost entrepreneurship and growth across Europe.
1: Tap into a huge global customer base
Online marketplaces enable small businesses to access cross-border trade opportunities, and expand their consumer base beyond their owned website or bricks-and-mortar store. An unprecedented number of businesses are now taking advantage of eBay’s global export market of 169 million customers, who purchased $84 billion worth of merchandise last year. To put this into context, the eBay customer base is more than double France’s population (66.5 million) and almost four times that of Spain (46.4 million).
2: Export globally
Leveraging e-commerce and global shipping programmes, European online businesses are now successfully marketing to an increasingly global audience. In Spain, eBay businesses exported to 25 countries on average in 2015, up from 21 countries two years previously, while Italian businesses exported to 18 countries on average in 2015, compared to 16 in 2014. On top of this, over half of businesses in France (57%) and the UK (55%) now export to four or more continents.
3: Adapt to consumer trends
An analysis of new businesses registering on eBay last year reveals that the most popular product categories vary across Europe: Consumer electronics lead the business registrations in Spain (28%) and France (27%) last year, while Clothes, Shoes and Accessories was the dominant category in Italy and the UK (both 26%), and Home and Garden sellers (26%) dominated in Germany.
Despite the differences between countries, it is interesting to note that ‘Toys’ was a thriving category across all of Europe – registrations from business sellers in the ‘Toys’ category increased by over 100% between December 2015 and December 2016, across the five countries mentioned.
All countries and all sectors are on a journey towards a greater share of sales going online. But recognising these country variations will enable small businesses to tailor their marketing and product base.
4: Grab the opportunity, identify the right partner
A recent survey commissioned by eBay revealed that 57% of respondents in Europe believe starting an online commercial business would give them greater fulfillment and financial independence. Looking at future generations of entrepreneurs, there is a clear interest in online retail with 61% of 18-24 year olds in Europe saying they want to use e-commerce to build a successful business.
With low upfront costs to set-up your business, starting out online enables retail entrepreneurs to quickly and easily test their business ideas with a global customer base. Marketplaces can offer support such as data and insights, as well as tools to help you promote your business online.
With the support available on eBay, it is no coincidence that there are more businesses turning over a million pounds or Euros than ever before. To find out more, visit ‘Inside the eBay Economy’ for insights on entrepreneurship across Europe, as well as helpful tips and insights on how to start or grow your online business.
 Eurostat: http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Statistics_on_small_and_medium-sized_enterprises
 European Commission: http://ec.europa.eu/DocsRoom/documents/16341/attachments/2/translations
 Research commissioned by eBay and implemented by Ipsos Italia and Censuswide in February 2016. 5,000 respondents across the UK, Germany, France, Italy and SpainAuthor : Guest contributor