The European Commission recently published a study on the internationalisation of European SMEs. Where do they mainly export? What share of their activity does e-commerce account for? And what are the main difficulties that they encounter? Here are the main results.
52% of European SMEs are engaged in international activities. Published last October, the study, entitled Internationalisation of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises, was conducted by the TNS Institute for the benefit of the European Commission with 14,500 SMEs located in the member states of the EU and in six non-EU countries that are part of the COSME (Competitiveness of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises) programme. First finding: 52% of European SMEs are engaged in international activities (inside and outside the EU). For exports, 30% of SMEs conduct their operations within the EU zone, and 20% in a non-EU country. The European countries with the largest number of SMEs engaged in international activities are Cyprus, Latvia and Austria. Conversely, Bulgaria, Estonia and Italy are the countries least engaged. Last noteworthy observation: European SMEs engaged in B2B commerce conduct most of their operations within the EU.
See the EuroparlTV.eu video on the weight of SMEs in Europe (1 min 15 secs)
Having an Internet site is unavoidable. The Internet is the compulsory platform for broadcasting a company’s offer: almost two thirds of European SMEs have a website that presents their products or services. Obviously, the results vary by country. In fact, SMEs are more likely to have websites in Northern Europe (Denmark, Sweden, Belgium and Austria) than in Southern European countries such as Bulgaria, Italy or Romania, where the proportion drops below 50%. However, these figures drop markedly when it comes to online sales: only 29% of SMEs offer an online sales service on their websites. In fact, the results for online sales are more contrasted, with particularly high-performing countries such as Poland, where more than half of SMEs offer this service. Conversely, in Germany, this figure drops to 23%.
Destination countries for exports: the EU for four in every five European SMEs. The EU remains the leading destination for exports by European SMEs: 81% of businesses that exported in the last three years did so to an EU country. Non-European destinations trail a long way behind: Middle East and North Africa (15%), Eastern Europe and Balkan region (14%), and the United States (13%). Meanwhile, the local market continues to take an important share of sales by SMEs. According to the report, 66% of sales by European SMEs in 2014 were made within their own country. Other EU countries accounted for 21% of sales, and non-EU countries for 13% of sales.
Among those SMEs that do not export, 9% pointed out that they intended to do so in the near future, and 3% indicated that they would soon begin export operations.
Concerning products types, SMEs selling goods or services to other businesses (B2B) exported proportionately more to EU countries than SMEs selling goods or services to consumers (B2C).
The 3 main export barriers. The SMEs polled for this study identified three main barriers to exporting:
- Administrative procedures that are too complicated (for more information on this particular topic, see our article on the simplification of customs operations),
- Delivery costs that are too high: consult Europages to compare the delivery service competition!
- Difficulty identifying business partners abroad: use Europages!
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