March 7, 2021

Scotland is Missing Out on the Boom in Online Trading

Dr Peter Mowforth

Authors: Colin Donald and Peter MowforthOriginally published in The Times, December 16 2016Much attention and anguish surrounds the impact of Brexit on the future of Scottish exports. There is, however, a far bigger impediment to Scotland regaining its former glory at the top of the global export superleague. That obstacle is our poor performance in ecommerce.What exactly is ecommerce? The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, all the major economies, financial institutions, Google and Wikipedia all agree: it’s online trade.In August 2014 John Swinney, then the finance secretary, said that Scottish ecommerce was worth £38 billion. This eye-watering figure was extrapolated from Office for National Statistics figures showing that UK ecommerce stands at £573 billion. Most of that total comprises business-to-business transactions. Only about 15 per cent of ecommerce is online shopping.Scotland has some hugely successful businesses selling and exporting through ecommerce, from larger international traders such as Toolstop at Strathclyde Park to smaller operators. But does their combined trading muscle deliver £38 billion in sales? Mr Swinney’s guess seems wildly overstated.Scotland has a significantly lower share of interest than any other part of the UK. Adzuna, the recruitment site, posts 3,164 ecommerce jobs in London, 602 across England’s northwest but only 74 in Scotland. Given that ecommerce represents a distinct way of conducting business with its own technology, skills, processes and unique supply chains it is worrying that there is not one dedicated course on the subject in Scottish universities and colleges.

Ecommerce web design is different to traditional web design. Ecommerce marketing uses different tools and techniques to traditional digital marketing, and its supply chains have different dynamics and interfaces. The skill sets required are as rare as hens’ teeth in Scotland.The Scottish Chambers of Commerce has seen the need for leadership and is well positioned to help get a significant number of its 14,000 members aboard the ecommerce train. It has put together a powerful grouping of more than 20 organisations and is discussing with the public sector how to bring focus to a topic that lies at the heart of Scotland’s ability to create wealth, jobs and exports. Growing Scotland’s trade is something we can all get behind in 2017.

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