How to Research Export Markets

A guide to what small and medium enterprises should do before launching overseas

How to Research Export Markets

How do I narrow down my list of countries?

After you have followed the steps above, you should have an increasingly narrow shortlist of potential markets to consider. To fine-tune this list, consider the following additional factors:

  • Political, religious and cultural obstacles. Even if your product or service seems perfectly suited to a particular foreign market, remember that there can be deep-seated cultural objections to your offering which may not be immediately apparent. The best way to find out about these is to contact your target country’s embassy in the UK and ask them directly. This page contains the addresses and contact details of all the foreign embassies based in the UK.
  • Competitors. Look at both your UK competitors who are already exporting and any domestic competition you will have to deal with. In particular, examine:
    • The range of products and services they offer compared to your own
    • Which demographics they focus on
    • How they market their offering
    • Which distribution channels they use
    • How they price their offering
    • Their strengths and potential weaknesses
  • Cost of transport. Assess the actual cost of exporting your goods or services to your target country.
  • Import and export tariffs. Most EU countries are tariff-free under free trade laws, but countries further afield will often levy import duties on goods coming into the country. The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has a comprehensive list of tariffs and customs duty rates.
  • Distance from the UK. You may have to visit the country on a regular basis in order to manage your export activity – do not ignore distance and cost of travel as a factor.

How do I research my target market?

After fine-tuning your list, the next step is to conduct in-depth research on the foreign markets you consider to have potential. You could try the following sources of information to help with this stage:

  • UK Trade & Industry (UKTI): The government body has a wealth of information for UK exporters available for free – you can view thousands of overseas contracts, tenders and projects on their Business Opportunities page, meet with a trade adviser, and take advantage of the host of other export services UKTI offers.
  • Commercial market research companies: Bodies like Mintel and TNS Global regularly publish paid-for reports on foreign markets and sectors.
  • Trade associations: Your own trade association or industry body could offer help and advice on exporting tailored to your own sector. You can find details of your own trade association on the TA Forum website.

Should I use a market research agency?

Briefing a market research agency is a good way to receive an indication of the state of the market without having to conduct expensive legwork yourself.

If you decide to use a research agency, take the following steps:

  • Decide whether to use a UK-based or foreign agency. Whilst an agency based in the country you are researching will be able to offer a true insider’s view of the market, their responses may be difficult to understand due to language and cultural differences.
  • Put together a shortlist of agencies. Visit the Esomar homepage to find market research companies based in your target country.
  • Compile a brief. You should approach your shortlisted agencies with a brief that they can compete for. The brief should contain:
    • A description of your company
    • Which products or services you wish to export
    • What information you need on the market or markets in question
    • When you need a response by
    • Deadlines for information
    • In what format you wish to have the report.
  • Choose a proposal. After you have submitted your brief and received proposals, choose the one that suits your business most. A good proposal should show:
    • A thorough understanding of what you need
    • How the research will be done
    • Timescales for doing so
    • A full breakdown of costs and charges
    • A confidentiality agreement
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