Irish SMEs optimistic about business growth as focus turns to international sales opportunities

  • PayPal research reveals that 96% of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Ireland have seen an increase in online sales over the past 12 months
  • Half of SMEs surveyed sell their products or services internationally, while 30% plan to do so in the next 12 months; 31% of SME owners said their business will not survive if they don’t expand internationally
  • Online presence, marketing, and additional shipping/delivery capabilities are the leading investment areas for SMEs to drive expansion

Dublin, July 4th, 2024 – Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in Ireland that sell online appear to be experiencing a growth period, with 96 per cent seeing an increase in online sales over the past 12 months. A similar proportion (95%) are feeling optimistic about the growth of their business over the next year.

PayPal’s 2024 ‘Business of Change Report’* revealed that on average, SMEs selling their products or services in international markets generated €240,605 in the last 12 months. Those surveyed that don’t currently sell internationally, but are planning to do so in the future, estimated that the move would generate €122,728 annually for their business.

Cross border trade a catalyst for growth
Further exploration into the prevalence of international commerce uncovered that half (50%) of SMEs in Ireland are presently engaged in international sales, with an additional 30 per cent intending to do so within the next year. Among those already selling internationally, 77 per cent have experienced a surge in international sales volume over the past three years.

The primary impetus behind international expansion is the belief that Ireland is strategically positioned to seize opportunities in global markets (41%). However, a significant 31 per cent of those surveyed indicated that their survival hinges on international expansion.

Not surprisingly, 34 per cent of SME owners prioritise delivering an improved customer experience as a crucial factor for business expansion—second only to providing high-quality products or services, which garnered 38 per cent. Rounding out the top five priorities were adopting emerging technologies, utilising online marketplaces, and ensuring affordability of products or services, each at 32 per cent. 

Concerns and challenges
While there is a general feeling of optimism, almost a quarter of SME owners (23%) cited poor purchasing processes for customers as a top barrier to future business growth. Meanwhile, more than a fifth (22%) identified that they lack the skills or resources to fully leverage online platforms.

As well as internal factors, external trends most impacting SMEs in Ireland that sell online are:

  • A rising demand for more payment methods (such as buy now pay later and digital wallets like PayPal) – 40%
  • More people wanting discounts, promotions and deals – 38%
  • Customers wanting more convenience (such as click and collect, and package tracking) – 37%
  • Three in 10 (30%) are concerned with the trend that fewer people are converting at checkout – more browsers than buyers.

SMEs prioritise tech investments for future growth, eyeing AI, VR experiences
Looking forward, the vast majority (92%) of SME owners prioritise technology investment for their business's future growth. Nearly a quarter (23%) desire to allocate resources to Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning, while 21 per cent plan to invest in Virtual Reality experiences.

Regarding specific areas earmarked for investment within the next year to bolster expansion, 38 per cent plan to prioritise enhancing their online presence. Following closely are investments in marketing (33%), additional shipping/delivery capabilities (32%), team expansion (32%), and social commerce (31%).

Moreover, 27 per cent intend to invest in ecommerce capabilities, with secure payment methods and international sales processes on the agenda for 26 per cent of SME owners surveyed.

Jonas Breding, General Manager, PayPal Northern Europe shared, "For over twenty years, we've been a trusted partner for Irish entrepreneurs and ecommerce businesses. We recently launched PayPal Complete Payments, our most advanced offering in the market. Our comprehensive solution fosters growth, provides advanced fraud protection, and streamlines cross-border trade, empowering entrepreneurs to thrive."

About the study:
The research was conducted by Censuswide among a sample of 253 SME Owners in the Republic of Ireland whose business sells their products or services online. The data was collected between 22.05.2024 - 28.05.2024. Censuswide abides by and employs members of the Market Research Society and follows the MRS code of conduct and ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Market Research) principles. All stats relating to SMEs are based on the sample of 253 SME Owners that were surveyed for the study.

About PayPal:
PayPal has been revolutionising commerce globally for more than 25 years. Creating innovative experiences that make moving money, selling, and shopping simple, personalised, and secure, PayPal empowers consumers and businesses in approximately 200 markets to join and thrive in the global economy. For more information, visit https://www.paypal.com and

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