Retail Going Online
In 2013 Belarusians made 4.7 million purchases online
Online shopping sneaked into our lives a long time ago by pushing away offline competition. Nearly half of Belarus’ adult population has made at least some online purchases. An average consumer spends about $300 on online shopping and makes slightly more than three purchases every six months. The most common types of products bought online include phones and computers, equipment, apparel and cosmetics, cinema tickets and flight tickets. Online shopping is so popular because it is fast, convenient and offers great deals. As a result, in January-June 2014 Belarusians made over 2.5 million online purchases. In 2014 the number of registered online shops doubled in comparison with 2013 to reach 10,500 in October. The prospects of online shopping and the issues facing online retailers today were discussed at a roundtable session held as part of the expo Bank.Insurance.Leasing, with the Belarusian national payment system BELKART co-organizing the event.
Government and Online Retail Business That Fits Any Size
A major step to protect consumer rights was made in 2014 when the new trade law required online business platforms to enable conditions conducive to the protection of consumer rights and the observance of online shopping laws.
“We actively cooperate with all platforms. We have developed guidelines for Internet service providers that offer online shop hosting services. The guidelines spell out requirements for every party taking into account the interests of sellers and buyers,” stressed Irina Baryshnikova.
It is remarkable that Belarusian legislators defined the term “online shop” only a short while ago — in 2009 when description-based trade regulations came into effect. The government’s regulation of this business started back then.
“That year marked the birth of online shopping in Belarus, with rules enforced to determine interaction between sellers and buyers,” said Irina Baryshnikova, Head of the Consumer Rights Protection and Advertising Control Office of the Belarusian Trade Ministry.
Since then the legislation on digital commerce has been developing rather fast. Mandatory registration of sellers was introduced in 2010. In 2012 all online shops were obliged to allow their customers to pay for their purchases remotely. In 2013 all online shops were instructed to have cash registers.
The online shopping market in Belarus is still in its nascence but is full of promise, experts believe. Online shopping accounts for about 1.5% of the total retail sales in Belarus, with the weighted mean volume of the market at $420 million in 2013.
Minimum start-up investment coupled with the possibility of gaining quick returns attracts new players in this business. It is remarkable that online shopping primarily attracts self-employed businessmen. They own over half of the 10,500 registered online shops. Major Belarusian retailers are learning the new kind of business slowly but steadily. Online shops have been opened by the department stores TSUM, GUM, and Belarus, the national postal service provider Belpochta, the Belarusian manufacturers Belwest, Pinskdrev, Keramin, and the trading house Na Nemige.
“The Ministry encourages online efforts of manufacturers and major retailers. We believe that such economic operators will safeguard consumer rights,” noted the representative of the Belarusian Trade Ministry.
Yet participants of the roundtable session agreed that state-run businesses need to put more efforts into raising the awareness of consumers about their online presence, should be more daring in their promotion of various goods and services on the Web. For instance, Belpochta could offer its customers an online option of organizing a parcel or package from home computer and ordering courier collection. This would be much more appreciated by consumers than simply the opportunity to buy envelops and stamps on its website, said Yevgenia Chernyavskaya, head of the online shopping platform kupi.tut.by. Businesses, which are focused on retail, have even broader opportunities.
“Online presence is a must and is unavoidable. The sooner Belarusian retail chains understand it, the better. Russian, Chinese, and European shops have been scaling their business for a long time, getting increased revenues thanks to online presence,” stressed the expert.
A project launched by Belarus’ top offline retailer Euroopt is an example of online shopping success. Registered in June 2014, the online retail service offers over 3,000 product titles at prices, which are 5% below those in Euroopt’s