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Driving growth with digital trade

27th Jun 2022 6 min read

Businesses are embracing digital transformation in a bid to overcome the challenges they face when trading internationally, new research from Santander suggests.


With the pressures on international supply chains driven by COVID-19 showing no sign of abating, and exacerbated by war in Ukraine, recent lockdowns in China, and the highest rates of inflation for 40 years, businesses are looking for innovative new trade solutions to improve efficiency and give themselves a competitive edge.

This is why Santander is launching Santander Navigator, a new, innovative portal, designed to make international growth simple. The online tool guides businesses through every step of international trade, including regulation and shipping, as well as helping users to find the best markets and suitable buyers for their products. Drawing on insights, knowledge and connections from Santander’s global network and international ecosystem of providers, Santander Navigator is a subscription service that brings international markets to your fingertips. 

Overcoming the challenge of red tape

The spring 2022 edition of the Santander Trade Barometer shows that bureaucracy is the single most pressing issue facing businesses trading overseas. In fact, 42% of international businesses say that red tape is their most significant operational obstacle.

Two-thirds (66%) of these firms cite problems with the completion of import and export documentation as the biggest bureaucratic challenge related to international trade. These issues include dealing with customs clearance and duties, as well as the likes of sanitary documentation and certification requirements.

However, many businesses are now taking proactive steps to modernise their trade journeys, particularly in light of the challenges created by COVID-19. According to the most recent Trade Barometer report, almost a third of businesses (31%) have made significant efforts to adopt digital transformation as a result of COVID-19. Almost four in ten (38%) of these businesses say that the main focus of their new digital strategy relates to logistics and their supply.

Barriers to digital adoption

Until recently, international trade has been a largely paper-based system. As such, it is more susceptible to human error and the loss of physical documents. In the past few years, however, businesses all over the world have shown a growing appetite for adopting digital trade solutions to simplify processes, reduce errors, and increase efficiency.

Indeed, the Spring 2022 Trade Barometer shows that half of businesses (51%) operating internationally already use digital trade in some form, for example, in making customs declarations, financing sales, or taking payments. However, the research has also highlighted several obstacles faced by firms in making the transition to digital services.

Almost half of businesses (46%) say that a lack of access to the right skilled labour is preventing them from adopting digital trade systems. Cross-border data protection laws are also a problem, with 45% of businesses saying that their digital trade is hindered by excessive data protection regulations in general, and 40% cite issues caused by their inability to transfer data across jurisdictions.

Driving efficiency with sustainability

Businesses are also increasingly likely to look at their digital trade and supply chain operations through the lens of sustainability – with a view not just to becoming more environmentally friendly and responsible organisations, but also to improving efficiency.

Shorter supply chains, for example, may generate less carbon while also being less vulnerable to the type of international shipping delays that many businesses have experienced since the start of COVID-19.

The latest Trade Barometer research shows that 45% of international SMEs say that they are unable to contact overseas customers or travel to new markets due to COVID-19 travel restrictions and one in five said travel restrictions impacted their ability to train staff. Digital solutions have an important role to play here too, for example, in helping businesses to connect through virtual events, or online and remote training and learning. 

How we can help

Santander Navigator provides a personalised experience for each user and includes a logistics solution, where businesses can select from a range of shipping providers, allowing them to pick the option that best meets their needs, whilst providing them with greater visibility over their shipments. The portal also houses insights from Santander’s experts and its global network of providers, including shipping and logistics updates from across the world.

For more information about Santander Navigator visit or contact You can read the full Trade Barometer report here