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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY - INTERNET RETAILERS REPORT SIGNIFICANT GROWTH

Online shopping catching on

FROM A HOLIDAY in Thailand to a new Toyota to traditional Slovak garb to a cocktail set, the selection at Slovakia's online shops is increasing every year - along with the number of Slovakia's online shoppers.

FROM A HOLIDAY in Thailand to a new Toyota to traditional Slovak garb to a cocktail set, the selection at Slovakia's online shops is increasing every year - along with the number of Slovakia's online shoppers.

The internet officially celebrated its fifteenth anniversary in the Slovak Republic this month, and so far the adoption rate has been relatively slow. Statistical data places Slovakia at the bottom of the list when it comes to household internet penetration usage in the EU.

However, despite its slow start, the internet's popularity as a place to shop is starting to pick up dramatically.

"While the normal book market is stagnating, our revenue is growing annually by approximately 180 percent," said Michal Leško from the www.martinus.sk online bookshop.

He continued, "Internet access is becoming more accessible for ordinary people and for those from smaller towns. A market that was once dominated by customers from the Bratislava Region has now spread nationwide. People are gradually getting over their prejudices against this modern way of shopping."

According to a TNS SK marketing agency survey that was taken at end of 2006, almost 40 percent of Slovaks are now using internet on a regular basis.

Meško also thinks that the growing number of online shoppers is due to the greater number of online retailers who are offering quality services: "If the customer is satisfied with their first online purchase, there is a good chance that he will use online shopping again." Martinus.sk was the first internet shop in Slovakia to be recognised by the Slovak Gold foundation for offering outstanding quality in an award given in December 2006.

The growing trend in internet retail can also be seen in other companies: "Our plan for this year is to sell twice as many cars online as we did in 2006," said Peter Galko, the managing director of online car retailer AutoOlymp.sk. The firm offers new and showroom cars for sale online at a discount compared to what people would have to pay for the same car if bought directly from a dealer.

Since its opening in November 2005, the online shop has sold more than 200 cars. "We find a car that matches the customer's specifications and if we can't we have it made especially for them. We can insure it, have winter tires fitted on it, arrange the registration of the car, and deliver it to the customer's front door - without him ever having to leave his house. Some people think this pure science fiction," said Galko.

Despite being new on market, the 123dopyt.sk online shop claims to have become a leader on the Slovak market. The company is actually a Slovak version of the older epoptavka.cz online shop based in the Czech Republic.

Their service is based around meeting the demands sent by a customer for any and every kind of product. A couple of hours after 123dopyt.sk receives an order, the customer is sent a range of offers from several relevant suppliers.

"Customers are able to save up to 30 percent this way," said Petr Valeš, the company's managing director. Their current number of requests reaches around 1,000 per month and the company reports a revenue of over Sk250 million. As the service is quite new, registration on the site for customers and suppliers is currently free though the providers are planning to start charging for registration by the end of February.

There has been considerable investment in Slovakia from the more established Czech market. The alza.sk online shop is a Slovak branch of the established Czech IT retail shop with the same name. It is run by Martin Dohnál: "Our customers range from businessmen who need to save time to students who are attracted by our low prices. We are able to deliver the goods from Prague to anywhere in Slovakia within 24 hours, which is another advantage." The site is also available in English and German.

Just like at alza.sk, you can also find an English version of the kvety.sk online flower shop. "Ever since we launched our English version, the majority of our customers have been foreigners, rather than Slovaks working abroad and foreign Slovaks," said Miroslav Očenáš, who runs the service. His company delivers flowers in Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, serving approximately 500 people a month.

"We deliver the exact bouquet that customers choose on our website. They are arranged by our company florists and are sent from there - not from the customer's closest high street flower shop, which might make a mistake and then we would have to redo the bouquet," explains Očenáš. His online shop reports a 230 percent annual growth in revenue.

Although Slovaks are using online shopping more than ever, those involved in the business agree that the golden times of internet retail are still to come.

"We expect that people will realise the value of their free time and patience much more in the future," said AutoOlymp.sk's Galko.

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