By Maria Veresova
The Gemius International Research Agency states that about 4m Belarusians are Internet users, with at least 70 percent regularly surfing the Net. With this in mind, it’s no surprise that residents of large cities prefer to shop from home. Internet shops offer diversity, with almost the same range as ‘high street’ shops plus the convenience of delivery.
However, Internet trading is yet to be brought fully under the law. In early 2011, Prime Minister Mikhail Myasnikovich ordered that problems relating to Internet shopping be investigated. A special interdepartmental working group was set up, including representatives of the Trade Ministry, the National Bank, the Taxes and Duties Ministry, the National Academy of Sciences, the Ministry of Communications, the Finance Ministry, the Economy Ministry and a number of business associations.
It seems that the greatest problems arise when a courier delivers an item to a customer, since they should produce an invoice and guarantee certificate. Moreover, they should inform the customer of available service centres, where the product can be repaired if necessary. Additionally, the courier should demonstrate that the purchase is in working order. In reality, the situation is often different.
“We need to develop non-cash payments — either via electronic money transfer or by account,” notes the Deputy Trade Minister, Irina Narkevich. However, her Ministry admits that it’s hardly possible to shift all Internet sales to non-cash settlements immediately. It’s more important to ensure that all sellers operate legally, via registration. According to the Trade Ministry, about 4,000 economic entities operating via the Internet were on the Trade Register on April 1st, 2011.
Last year, Belarusian Internet shops tripled their turnover compared to 2009. However, despite these impressive figures, Internet trade accounts for just one percent of total turnover in Belarus (compared to over 25 percent in developed states). Belarusians differ little from Europeans regarding the structure of their preferences though, with online purchases of computers and white goods enjoying the greatest popularity.