March 7, 2021

Why are Scottish companies ignoring the largest sales opportunity on the planet?

Dr Peter Mowforth

Asia’s Single’s Day has already completely eclipsed the already massive online sales around Black Friday and Cyber Monday across Asia. The biggest ecommerce feeding frenzy of the year generated a whopping $1 billion in its first two minutes and ended up generating over $25 billion for Alibaba and over $19 billion for JD during the day. Importantly, thousands of other platforms also saw record-breaking sales spikes.

Western brands such as Apple, Nike, Victoria's Secret, Burberry, Adidas, Bose, Gap, Mac Cosmetics, Procter & Gamble, and Zara have piled in and seem to have reaped big rewards from doing so. Brands such as Burberry have managed to demonstrate how well UK-based heritage brands are perceived {ref} so providing a solid basis for ecommerce sales to the region.“British talent, products and design continue to remain indisputably desirable to international consumers – not least the Chinese” says James Hebbert, UK managing director of Hylink, a Chinese digital agency. “The growing potential for western brands in China is huge”.The problem is that while I spent time looking through all the promoted offers, vouchers and singles-day deals on sites like Tmall and social channels such as WeChat and Weibo, it was depressing to see almost no Scottish company offering anything to mark the world’s biggest shopping day.A colleague at one of Scotland’s largest spirits supply chain companies told me that he recently attended a large event aimed at getting Scottish companies to export to China. Several speakers had said that the only way to sell directly into China was to have a China-based partner. Several members of the audience voiced the opinion that it was difficult to develop trust with individuals and companies based in China and to trust them to manage the necessary relations and supply-chain complexities.Last Friday I had two meetings. The first was with with a Scottish brand-owner manufacturer. The company knows that there is massive demand in China for the type of products they sell but echoed the locally-held opinion that selling there was going to be complicated and would take a long time to happen. They also talked about how little ecommerce was done in Scotland, how poor the local business advice was and how hard it was to find suppliers who knew how to build high-performance ecommerce platforms.The second meeting was with a couple of Scottish-based Chinese entrepreneurs (who have both seemingly fallen in love with Scotland and appreciate so much of what we locals take for granted) who each explained how puzzled they were about Scottish businesses and their reluctance to trade with China. I wrote down their most poignant comment “Scottish companies say they would like to trade with China but all they ever do is talk about it instead of just doing it”.The point is, there are Scottish companies that use ecommerce to sell things from here directly into China. Importantly, they do it well and do so without needing a China-based partner. Products are marketed and sold from here directly to end-users in China. You certainly don’t need to go on a trade mission to make it happen. Payments are taken while the pick-pack and despatch all takes place directly from Scotland. One company is the Glasgow-based INDEZ partner Unineed. The other is the Edinburgh-based Shoes121. I’m sure there are others in Scotland. What marks each of them apart is that they both operate a culture of not bothering to talk about it. Instead they just do it.

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