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Online marketplace boom instrumental in supporting small Nottingham-based e-commerce business

E-commerce now accounts for more than a quarter of retail sales in the UK, with the industry projected to reach more than £89 billion in revenue in 2021. A boom in online marketplaces has contributed heavily to the growth of e-commerce businesses in the country, with the number of new businesses starting on e-commerce platform Shopify up 83% year-on-year in 2020 and Etsy experiencing a 300% growth in the same period according to research by The Accountancy Partnership.

These online marketplaces lower the barriers to starting an e-commerce business, something that Nottingham-based art, jewellery and gift business, Saffa Designs, benefitted from while the business’s official website was in development.

Kris Van Wellen, who founded Saffa Designs with his partner, Mel, said: “We largely sell our products through our website now, but at the beginning, the website spent a lot of time in development as this was all done in-house. This could have seriously slowed down gaining traction with the business but using Etsy in the interim while the website was developed allowed us to start making sales and build a customer base right from the outset.”

Saffa Designs’ ethos focuses on quality, handmade artwork and gifts created and sold in a sustainable fashion. Products are crafted by the team in Nottingham with partner production labs in the USA, Netherlands and Australia to limit the need to ship via airmail and get products to customers quicker.

Samantha Morgan-Rush, accounts semi-senior at The Accountancy Partnership, said: “In the early days of running a start-up, cash flow is essential to fund all those initial costs associated with running a business – website design, launch marketing, business premises, salaries and so on. It’s worth remembering that an online marketplace will take a cut of anything you sell, so whilst they’re an excellent way to generate funds, remember to consider the costs when planning and forecasting.”

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While Etsy was invaluable in helping to get Saffa Designs up and running and is still instrumental in generating sales, Kris says that the business’s aim is to bring in more direct traffic.

He said: “Online marketplaces make setting up an e-commerce business pain-free and has helped us tap into its users, which has been brilliant for building up a presence. As we continue to grow, we will keep selling on Etsy as we benefit from it being a household name and the go-to place for the kinds of products that we sell, but we want to become a go-to store in our own right.”

Saffa Designs is a family business through and through, originally started to allow Mel and Kris to spend quality time with their young sons, who now both inspire the artwork and provides entertainment and a helping hand around the studio. Recycled and biodegradable resources are used to manufacture and package products wherever possible, and any unavoidable emissions are offset through a partnership with Ecologi.

To find out more about Saffa Designs, visit

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