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Routes to international markets

Learn about the different routes your product can take to international markets.

Understand the different routes into international markets

There are many ways you can choose to enter and develop your business in selected export markets. This can also vary between individual markets, depending on which route is the most effective for each individual export market.

So which aspects should you consider? 

Direct selling

You may choose to sell directly into export markets yourself if you have the necessary resources and skills in-house. The internet gives users the flexibility to advertise and sell directly to customers in almost any market. 

Agents and distributors

Alternatively, you may choose to enter and develop export markets through a third party arrangement – normally by appointing an agent or distributor in the selected market, or via an online marketplace.

Other options

Other less common, yet effective routes to international markets are: licensing, franchising and/or collaboration channels.

Consider the pros and cons of each route in terms of what you require

There is no right or wrong route to enter and develop export markets – it will often depend on the individual market and, most importantly, your own business circumstances and how you wish to develop your export business. 

Direct selling – this is the most traditional form of export, often achieved through selling direct to consumers via a website, retail outlets or trade fairs. 

Online marketplaces – more frequently businesses are listing their products on third-party websites, whereby the transactions and processes are handled by the marketplace operator. 

Licensing and franchising – this route to market is commonly used by many companies in the UK. It offers a quick route into a number of markets, allowing companies to share the potential risks of exporting (provided a comprehensive agreement is in place which protects the company), and ensures a good return. 

Using agents and distributors in international markets

Another option is using agents or distributors as a route to market. Each fulfil a particular role and it’s important to detail the expected role requirements within a contract agreement.

You can hire a sales agent to find customers on your behalf in your target markets - they'll have the knowledge and experience of the market that you may lack. Sales agents will use your materials to sell your product and are generally paid at an agreed rate of commission for the sales they make.

Distributors buy from you and then sell your product on to their own customer base, adding their own margins to cover costs. They function as your only point of contact for your product in a particular market and as larger operations, they provide services such as marketing, export documentation, stocking and labelling on your behalf.

You can read more about agents and distributors on the Open to Export websiteopens in a new window

You can also browse their web pages on reaching customersopens in a new window

Establish the most appropriate route for export to each selected market

Ultimately any of the above routes may work well for your business, but time should be taken to consider which method is the best fit. This will often depend on the scale and immediacy of the identified market opportunity.

Get the right support and advice

Our free international market research service can support by helping you scope out and markets, competitors, potential agents and distributors.

Got a question?

Our team would be happy to help.