The online global share of sales in the beauty sector grew by 16.5% at the end of 2020. Forecasts for the current year see this number further increasing to astronomical levels. However, not all the companies are taking advantage as much as they could.

According to an Alibaba Group study on SMEs in the EU, the market gap between SMEs that export digitally and those that do not is getting wider as the pandemic recovery stumbles its way through the threat of emerging variants.
The main conclusion of the Chinese e-Commerce giant is that exports are the key to recovery post-pandemic.
Many European companies are well aware of this, having worked hard during the lockdowns to adapt to the new challenges. As confirmed in many of our recent interviews on , they have to new challenges and have discovered that an online presence is vital to finding new customers in markets around the world.
However, some European SMEs might be in jeopardy of being left behind.
According to Alibaba’s survey, conducted through 2,322 interviews with SMEs from six EU countries – Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Poland – just 52% of SMEs in the EU export internationally. Among those that already sell abroad, 55% say that export is essential or plays a significant role in the survival of their business.
Consequently, a large percentage of SMEs are not yet taking advantage of the existing opportunities in global digital commerce, despite the persistent demand for affordable, high-quality European products.

Exporting internationally poses big a challenge for a large number of SMEs in the EU: transport costs, lack of personnel and resources, complicated paperwork and intricate Customs & Excise requirements are the main stumbling blocks they encounter.

Despite the inevitable obstacles in entering the Chinese market, it is, nevertheless, still relatively unexplored and represents a fantastic marketing opportunity for foreign exporters. In fact, among those SMEs mentioned in the survey above who were already exporting to foreign countries, only 17% reported selling to China.

This Alibaba survey shows the need to remove barriers and make trade easier for all small businesses. It’s a message that will hopefully be heard by both the Chinese government and also by Western governments which are now debating their post-pandemic strategies. It’s a not-to-be-missed opportunity, especially by Europe, as the consumer demand for EU products remains high in China, as well as elsewhere in the world.

By understanding the effectiveness of online channels in promoting sales, some smart European small companies have already taken their chances. More than 80% of SMEs in the EU that sell internationally claim that online markets make exporting much easier compared to via websites in the country of origin.
It is time now for governments and regulators to acknowledge this new reality and put effective measures in place to help SMEs export more easily.