15 Top E-Commerce Companies in the UK
WILL DAVIS, 17 AUGUST 2022
E-commerce companies are amongst the fastest-growing businesses in the world, with several of the UK’s unicorn companies operating in the e-commerce space. Whilst retail e-commerce sales are still on the up, recent reports suggest that growth in the UK e-commerce sector is slowing this year. And globally, e-commerce giants like Shopify and Amazon are also facing setbacks.
But what exactly is e-commerce? Read on to find out more about the UK’s e-commerce market, and discover the 15 top e-commerce companies to watch in 2022.
What is e-commerce?
E-commerce describes the exchange of money and data for commercial transactions over the internet. The term “e-commerce” is frequently used to refer to the online sale of physical goods, but it can also refer to the sale of services and other kinds of online business transactions.
Biggest players in the e-commerce market
Amazon and Alibaba Group are two of the largest e-commerce companies today, and among the 10 most valuable brands across the globe. The world’s largest company, Walmart, is also investing in the e-commerce space; despite its huge number of brick and mortar stores, the company’s e-commerce stores now pose a threat even to Amazon.
The convenience of online shopping compared to in-store purchases has revolutionised the retail sector. And with the development of payment gateways that support secure debit or credit card payments and online wallets like PayPal, the e-commerce industry has boomed. Now, it seems the latest trend in this ever-evolving sector is live e-commerce sales, such as on social media platforms like TikTok.
B2C e-commerce companies
Led by the likes of Amazon and JD.com (Jingdong), business-to-consumer or B2C e-commerce companies operate online storefronts to sell products to consumers. This can take the form of direct sellers, like retailer ASOS, specialised e-commerce websites, such as electronics retailer Rakuten, or fee-based sites, such as Netflix and Prime Video which offer online streaming services.
B2B e-commerce companies
Business-to-business (B2B) e-commerce companies are typically wholesalers, retailers or manufacturers that transact with other businesses online. B2B e-commerce exists across the supply chain, including services marketplaces, goods marketplaces like wholesaler Alibaba, or equipment and raw materials suppliers like Knowde.
C2C e-commerce companies
Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) e-commerce has grown exponentially during the COVID-19 pandemic. C2C e-commerce websites act as a third-party platform for consumers selling to other consumers. Initially popularised by eBay, other tech giants like Amazon and Facebook have now produced their own C2C marketplaces in its image. Another prominent C2C e-commerce platform is Etsy, which focuses on handmade and vintage goods.
The latest data on the UK’s e-commerce sector
Investment into high-growth e-commerce companies soared in 2021: amount raised via announced equity deals increased from just £63.1m in Q1 2020 to a peak of £552m in Q4 2021. But the end of most COVID-19 restrictions in the UK, combined with the ongoing cost of living crisis, has seen investment into the sector fall back down. The amount invested into UK e-commerce companies in Q2 2022 is still relatively high compared to pre-pandemic levels, however, at £305m. In terms of deal volume, just 30 equity rounds were announced in Q2 2022, compared to 42 in the previous quarter and a record 44 announced in Q2 2021.
The UK is currently home to 1,611 high-growth e-commerce companies. Of these businesses, 36% are operating at the seed stage, meaning they’re young startups, with a low employee count and valuation, and few fundraisings under their belt so far. Whereas, 28% of e-commerce companies in the UK are established-stage firms, which have typically been trading for 15+ years. So the sector’s stage of evolution breakdown is fairly evenly spread at the moment, with plenty of exciting new startups likely to scale in the coming months and years.
Within the UK e-commerce market, 61% of companies have an all-male founding team, compared to 75% across the UK’s wider high-growth ecosystem—but clearly there’s still a long way to go. With regards to regional disparities, London is home to 38% of the UK’s high-growth e-commerce businesses, with other e-commerce hubs located in the South East (12%) and the North West (9%).
Top e-commerce companies in the UK
Below is our ranking of the top e-commerce companies in the UK. From sportswear manufacturers to dog food suppliers, each are private companies headquartered in the UK and operating in the e-commerce space—ranked in order of the amount of equity investment they’ve raised to date.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) company SaltPay develops payment processing and point-of-sale technology for SMEs, including e-commerce stores, also offering tailored support to its customers. The fintech startup was founded to create affordable, fast and secure solutions, to help small business owners and entrepreneurs automate their payment processes.
SaltPay offers additional financial services and software, such as issuer payment processing, cloud-native payments and business management software, to global fintechs, payment providers, banks and MNOs. Headquartered in London and founded in 2019, SaltPay already has 14 offices, in 12 countries, having scaled its payment services network across Europe.
Having secured two equity funding rounds already, newcomer SaltPay has raised an impressive £358m in equity investment. It has also made four acquisitions to improve its functionality offerings, of foreign competitors Borgun, Pagaqui, Tutuka, and UK-based payment authorisation firm Paymentology.
Gousto provides a food delivery service, delivering ingredients in exact portions for recipes, with instruction cards on how to prepare the dish. Its online store gives a choice of several recipes, along with easy-to-follow methods. In 2020, Gousto partnered with Meatless Farm to introduce new products that expand its vegan and meat-free meal options. The online business has also appeared on 12 high-growth lists so far, most recently the FT 1000.
Gousto has raised £271m in equity investment since its founding in 2012, across 13 funding rounds. The unicorn company’s most recent equity raise, in January 2022, was an impressive £89.5m round with Barclays, HSBC Commercial Banking and Softbank Vision Fund. The e-commerce business announced that this new capital would fund the development of its fifth AI-driven fulfilment centre (in Burton-on-Trent).
03. Secret Escapes
London-based Secret Escapes has developed a website that sells discounted hotel stays and flights. Members sign up with the company to gain access to special rates, including discounts of up to 70% off the original price. It aims to offer upper mass-market and luxury travel, initially to customers in the United Kingdom, but has since expanded its customer base into several other countries.
Since its incorporation in 2009, Secret Escapes has raised £247m in equity investment, across 12 funding rounds. The e-commerce company has also made three acquisitions, to increase its market share: German company JustBook in 2014, Czech travel deals provider Slevomat Group in 2017, and Ireland-based Empathy Marketing in 2019. Secret Escapes has appeared in 15 high-growth lists since 2012, most recently the 1000 Companies to Inspire Britain ranking in 2020.
Motorway operates an online marketplace where private car sellers can receive offers from a variety of dealers to make the selling process as simple as possible. People who want to sell their car quickly can have it inspected, using AI-based computer vision on the Motorway mobile app, before professional dealers bid on it.
In November 2021, Motorway reached unicorn status via a £143m equity funding round. Venture capital firms Index Ventures and ICONIQ Growth led the fundraising, while existing investors Latitude, Unbound and BMWi Ventures also participated. In total, the e-commerce site has raised £205m in equity investment, across six funding rounds.
Motorway has featured in numerous high-growth lists so far, including the Deloitte Fast 50, FT 1000 and BusinessCloud 100 eCommerce Trailblazers. More than 100k cars have been sold through the company’s platform so far (averaging 8k per month) and it’s grown its network of car dealers to 4k platform users. Over the next 12 months, Motorway plans to expand its team from 250 employees to more than 350.
Fellow unicorn company Gymshark manufactures and sells a range of sportswear and accessories. The Solihull-based sports apparel company has become a household name for gym-goers, and has already expanded into the US e-commerce market. Founded by Benjamin Francis in 2012, the company has a cult following across online channels, with over 5m social media followers.
Gymshark ships to customers in over 130 different countries and has appeared on high-growth rankings such as the Fast Track 100. In August 2020, US growth equity firm General Atlantic bought a 21% stake in Gymshark for £200m. This deal made Gymshark only the third UK company to reach a billion-dollar valuation without any prior equity investment (the others being Checkout.com and OneTrust). This saw the online retailer join the ranks of other unicorns, including Cazoo, Revolut, Wise and Deliveroo.
Download the full list of the UK’s top 15 e-commerce companies here.
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