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ONLINE SHOPPING - BUT WITH SLOVAKS AS CUSTOMERS, BUSINESS IS TOUGH FOR ONLINE BUSINESSES

Cash-on-delivery lures locals

INSIGHT into the Slovak consumer has led some Internet shopkeepers to offer their customers the option of ordering goods online and paying for them on delivery. It turns out that cash-on-delivery is the most popular method of paying among the few Slovaks who actually purchase goods online.

INSIGHT into the Slovak consumer has led some Internet shopkeepers to offer their customers the option of ordering goods online and paying for them on delivery. It turns out that cash-on-delivery is the most popular method of paying among the few Slovaks who actually purchase goods online.

Online retailers that offer COD take on unnecessary risks, however. A consumer that orders a product online in August, for example, could wait until October to pay and pick up their purchase from the post office. Such cash flow delays can seriously hurt a business - even big, international corporations.

Not even Slovakia's global players such as Tesco, Orange and T-Mobile offer the variety of products and services that are routinely available online in their western branches. T-Mobile Slovakia is considering the prospect of building an online store. Orange is not even looking in that direction, happy to require its customers to visit its traditional, brick-and-mortar store in person when the need to buy arises.

However, both mobile operators told The Slovak Spectator that virtual services, such as adding mobile phone credits via the Internet or debit card, are becoming very popular, which suggests that online shopping in Slovakia has the potential to grow.

Online shopping, at its best, is easy, fast and hassle-free for both the customer and the retailer. It is also cheaper. The virtual shopkeeper does not have the overhead of a traditional store, thus generating savings on the merchant's side that is then transferred to lower prices.

Despite the availability of technology enabling online merchants to authorize debit or credit card purchases over the Internet in real time, most online retailers in Slovakia prefer that their customers use Internet banking services to pay for goods, according to Martina Kusovská, a spokesperson for Slovenská sporiteľňa.

Using Internet banking services to pay for goods, however, introduces an extra step - or three - into the online shopping process, since a bank requires both merchant and customer to be account holders.

Local online retailers say they lack a business case for investing in online real-time technology. So far, only Tatra banka offers merchant card processing services to authorise VISA and/or MasterCard card payments.

Other than Tatra banka, the only alternative for online retailers interested in immediate credit card authorization would be to contact foreign banks, and those require additional requirements.

"Using Tatra banka's Card Pay is a real alternative. We guarantee high security and data protection," Martina Machavová from Tatra Banka told The Slovak Spectator.

Since 2003, the Slovak Trade Inspection agency has received only six complaints regarding poor online shopping experiences. Three of those were resolved; the other three resulted in further prosecution.

"The complaints involved receiving different goods from those ordered," an agency representative told the Spectator.

As far as consumer protection is concerned, shopping online is just as safe as shopping in a store. Online merchants shoulder the burden of guaranteeing goods for 24 months, just like traditional store retailers.

In fact, buying online may be safer. E-commerce law grants online consumers a seven-day "cooling off" period, during which they can return goods and expect reimbursement without providing a reason for the return.

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