Launching Manchester’s first ecommerce forum to bring the industry together

By Katie Gallagher, Managing Director, Manchester Digital
20th October 2021

The success of Greater Manchester’s ecommerce industry is well-known, with a large number of online fashion and consumer retailers, as well as the extended supply chain which supports the industry. As the trade body for Manchester’s digital and tech businesses, Manchester Digital is supporting the growth of this fast-growing sector with the launch of our ecommerce forum.

The fast-paced development of cloud technology and super-fast fibre broadband, as well as changes in consumer behaviour, have all contributed to the growth of the ecommerce sector across our region. When you throw in the pandemic, which saw high street shops closed for periods of time across 2020 and 2021, the ecommerce industry saw even more demand and sales.

From its place in history as a leader of the Industrial Revolution, Manchester has transformed itself into a hub of technical and digital innovation within the UK. Physical transport links such as the motorway network, the rail network and the airport links means that the city region was well placed to develop its own tech revolution.

There are currently more than 3,000 ecommerce and related businesses within the city region, which includes five Unicorns, which are valued at more than $1bn - more than anywhere else in the UK.

Our city’s ecommerce brands include fashion retailers such as Missguided, Boohoo, PrettyLittleThing and NBrown, as well as other large businesses such as The Hut Group, AO.com, Music Magpie, Auto Trader Group and On The Beach. Fast-moving startups like Beauty Bay and Sneak Energy are also gaining nationwide attention as they see swift growth figures.

There are also a large number of digital agencies who support the sector with tech consultancy, SEO and digital marketing, as well as web and app build. We shouldn’t overlook the smaller agencies which provide important specialist skills and knowledge to support the ecommerce giants as they grow.

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Our first ecommerce forum

As a response to this rapid growth and the post-pandemic landscape, our team at Manchester Digital decided to launch a new quarterly ecommerce forum to bring together tech leaders and agencies within the supply chain to discuss the industry.

The first event was held at Manchester Technology Centre on Thursday, September 30 and saw ecommerce businesses Missguided, Awaze and Swan Products come together to discuss the issues they have faced and share their knowledge.

The pandemic brought up both massive challenges and opportunities for ecommerce businesses. It was fascinating to hear from these leading tech firms in how they dealt with the combined issues of running a business during a pandemic combined with the increased demands of their services. Their senior leaders talked through how they have re-platformed key brands, brought in new payment methods and engaged in influencer marketing - all while juggling remote working.

The world changed enormously over the past 18 months and some of those changes will remain. We have all been forced to adapt to a huge change in lifestyle and changed consumer habits will persist.

Skills and retaining staff

We heard that skills, talent and recruitment continue to be major challenges for growing tech businesses. Such is the struggle for recruitment for certain skills that architecture and infrastructure are being dictated by who can be hired - not the other way round.

As an industry, we need to continue to work closely with the universities and further education colleges to ensure they know what skills are required in this fast-changing world. Diversity and inclusion were also brought up as an ongoing issue and the UK is far behind other European countries who have been encouraging girls into studying STEM subjects more successfully for years.

Image of an event, person speaking at front of room and attendees sat watching

The speed of growth across the region means that businesses are constantly looking for talent with the right combination of skills and experience, as well as increasing the diversity of their tech teams.

Manchester Digital runs programmes such as Digital Her and digital apprenticeships which are vital to bring both new talent and diversity into the growing tech industry. Our Digital Skills Festival for 2022 has just been announced, which brings the region’s tech companies together with the tech stars of tomorrow.

Find out more about how Manchester Digital supports the tech and digital industry across Greater Manchester including events, membership and the Digital Skills Festival.

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