Zorana Milidrag, President of the Serbian E-Commerce Association: Education is the Biggest Obstacle to E-commerce

In Serbia, just like anywhere else in the world, people mostly buy electronics and sports equipment online

The E-Commerce Association of Serbia was founded in April 2018. “The idea came about after I was invited to attend the E-Commerce Week at UNCTAD in Geneva, as Serbia’s representative. After exchanging experiences with other associations and institutions across the world that deal with this topic, I was clear that if we wanted to develop online commerce in Serbia, we need to do it together and in a systematic fashion. Together with Marko Ilić and Nemanja Čedomirović, we founded the E-Commerce Association of Serbia (ECS) after which we formed a managing board and started devising goals for the Association with the support from the Ministry of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications (MTTT) and USAID’s Growth Project,“ says Zorana Milidrag, President of the Serbian E-Commerce Association, at the beginning of her interview for Diplomacy&Commerce.

46% of people in Serbia who have the Internet shop online and they usually trust brands that have a developed offline image in the world. What kind of goods do domestic shoppers order online?

— In Serbia, just like anywhere else in the world, people mostly buy electronics and sports equipment online. The thing that characterizes online shopping the most in Serbia is products at discounted prices. I advocate for retailers to focus more on providing a better quality user experience and raise the quality of e-commerce instead of just being recognized as an outlet. In terms of shoppers, the aim is to ensure speed, transparency, simplicity and accessibility, while for retailers it is the opportunity to reach a larger market and profitability. If we look at e-commerce as an outlet, neither customers nor retailers will reach their goal.

How much are e-shoppers familiar with their rights and obligations? — We conducted a survey on barriers to the development of online shopping. It turned out that, at present, education is the biggest barrier. By education, I mean the education of customers who are not sufficiently informed about their rights, but also education about the benefits of online commerce, and education of people who need to lead e-commerce, as well as decision makers who have to understand their expectations and the main potentials. The survey results showed that even retailers are not fully aware of their rights and obligations. In cooperation with the MTTT and USAID, ECS will work on educating all key factors in the e-commerce ecosystem. The plan is to organize training for the development of professionals who want to or already are doing the jobs in the segment of online commerce. In addition, we will prepare several types of customer guidelines so that they can see that e-commerce is safe providing you follow certain rules.

How safe is to shop online in Serbia?

—When you shop online it is important that you buy from trusted vendors and by that, I don’t mean necessarily big supermarket chains, but the vendors that are registered and that have clearly displayed terms of use. One of the benefits of online shopping is that shoppers can return purchased goods within 14 days. If the webshop they are buying from does not have this option, or it’s unclear how the return process is executed, that is one of the sure signals that something is wrong with your choice of online store. As a part of its membership fee, the E-Commerce Association of Serbia offers Trustmark, supervised by the E-Commerce Europe Foundation. And if the vendor does not comply with the local law, the buyer can file a complaint directly to SafeShop. On trusted pages, you can also pay via some of the electronic payment tools, which I consider to be an exceptional benefit because you do not have to worry if you’ll have enough cash when the courier delivers the product to you.
USAID has been supportive of the Association since the very beginning. What kind of partnership are we talking about and how important is that partnership for the Association?

— It was clear from just one meeting and getting to know the people from USAID’s Growth Project that the cooperation between the E-Commerce Association of Serbia and USAID would be beneficial for the development of e-commerce in Serbia. This is a project and a team that assembles all the key stakeholders and stimulates core developments. Recently, the E-Commerce Association of Serbia had a kick-off event at the Hilton Hotel, under the auspices of USAID, which gathered over 200 people from the e-commerce segment, as well as those from the public sector who are, together with all of us, working on improving and removing barriers for the development of e-commerce.

What effects does e-commerce have on Serbian economy, generally speaking?

— The effects of e-commerce on Serbia’s economy are far greater han what was originally assumed. At this point, most online stores report their online turnover as a part of reporting on the total turnover of their company, so sometimes the impact on the overall turnover is not clearly evident. One of the goals of the E-Commerce Association is to map the market and design development potentials. I often witness prejudices from both shoppers and business people who believe that the Serbian market is not ready for online shopping, but as someone who runs E-Commerce at Sport Vision for 9 markets, I can tell you that the Serbian market is developing at an incredible pace.
My advice to all business people is to react to this opportunity as soon as possible and use additional sales channel because e-commerce is a user experience that people are getting used to and if shoppers are going to get used to your competitors before you, it’s far more difficult to utilize this opportunity. Furthermore, e-commerce is an outstanding opportunity to expand the business to new markets. If a company plans to enter new markets, e-commerce can be the cheapest option for testing the market potential. Also, if you have a good idea and you do not have good funds, e-commerce is easy to launch since it doesn’t require much funding or you can  do it via dropshipping that is recognized as a sales channel under the new E-Commerce Law.
Can you give us a short overview of what will the new E-Commerce Law bring?

— The Serbian government has adopted the Proposal of the Draft Law on Electronic Commerce, which is another step closer towards complying with European and world standards. I must point out that the regulation was not even one of the biggest obstacles to the development of e-commerce, but it is certainly good to comply with EU laws. The new law defines the concepts of an electronic store,
the platform and also the most common forms of e-commerce, such as dropshipping. There is also the possibility of displaying different currencies for different markets, which is very important for the expansion beyond the borders of our country. More work on fighting against the shadow economy has also started with the introduction of a “mystery shopper”, a tool that market inspection will use. These are all incentives for the development of e-commerce and shoppers experiencing an increased sense of security in e-commerce. In my opinion, the media will play a key role in educating customers by promoting positive business examples.

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