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GLOBAL FIRM BELIEVES SLOVAK BUSINESSES ARE MISSING INTERNET OPPORTUNITIES

Google eager to teach e-commerce to small entrepreneurs

EVEN though broadband internet access is quite available in Slovakia and Slovaks have positive views of online shopping, smaller businesses are not fully tapping into all the opportunities offered by the internet, according to the new Google office opened in Bratislava, which aims to teach Slovak entrepreneurs how to harness the internet to generate more business and profit.

EVEN though broadband internet access is quite available in Slovakia and Slovaks have positive views of online shopping, smaller businesses are not fully tapping into all the opportunities offered by the internet, according to the new Google office opened in Bratislava, which aims to teach Slovak entrepreneurs how to harness the internet to generate more business and profit.

Google in Slovakia is led by country manager Rasťo Kulich, who said the global giant’s priorities are to educate firms in how to better use the internet in their businesses and to connect potential buyers with potential sellers. Kulich added that his firm sees the internet as a great opportunity for Slovakia to develop its export activities, saying that for a small and open economy like Slovakia’s, building a higher level of exports is of crucial importance.

Google has offices in over 40 countries but only in a few in countries with populations of around 5 million.

“Slovakia is one of just a few countries with a population of five million to have a local Google office,” Taťána le Moige, the country director for Google in the Czech Republic, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that because Slovakia and the Czech Republic were once one country there is much cross-border trade. “Slovakia is a perspective economy and certainly the fact that Czechs and Slovaks were in one country also plays a role as we share a lot of things. One-third of my team are Slovaks … and Google perceives that these two countries will be able to help each other.”

Le Moige noted the importance of e-commerce, which in the Czech Republic contributed 3.6 percent to aggregate gross domestic product, primarily via internet-based exports and personal consumption.

She said e-commerce is not as fully-developed in Slovakia even though the infrastructure is similar to other Visegrad Four countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland.

“About 70 percent of households in Slovakia have access to the internet,” Kulich said, adding that one-third of internet users in Slovakia have already shopped via the internet and the number has been growing. He added that online Slovak shoppers perceive the process to be faster, cheaper, and simpler and – in what he views as surprising – Slovaks do not perceive internet-based shopping as risky.

But Kulich said that despite Slovaks’ positive assessment of online shopping, internet-based purchases are not deep or broad and it accounts for a very low percentage of total shopping: just 0.5 percent of purchases in comparison to 3.3 percent in the Czech Republic.

Kulich ascribes this to too few offers on the internet and a lower level of preparedness by Slovak firms, especially those small and medium-sized.

“Even though 98 percent of companies have access to the internet, a very small proportion of them, only 7 percent, really sell via the internet,” Kulich stated. “In the Czech Republic this is 20 percent and for that reason we believe prospects in Slovakia are huge.”

Turnover from online shopping accounts for just 3 percent of total sales for small and medium-sized companies, Kulich reported.

Viola Kromerová, secretary-general of the Slovenský Živnostenský Zväz (SŽZ), an association representing self-employed persons, confirmed the poor situation in harnessing the power of the internet for business by members of her association.

“Almost 80 percent of all companies in Slovakia are micro-companies, with nine or less employees,” Kromerová told The Slovak Spectator, adding that she sees past bad experiences with the internet as well as certain age groups as behind the low use of the internet by smaller firms. “Slovak youth does not have any problem with using the internet but it is necessary to help the middle generation.”

Kromerová also noted that since private businesses returned to Slovakia only 20 years ago Slovak entrepreneurs have had to first establish themselves and find their market niches. She is pleased that Google has offered her association a helping hand in organising educational activities and believes these skills in using the internet are part of basic business literacy that all entrepreneurs need to know.

Google’s le Moige added that entrepreneurs who do not master these skills can quickly find themselves at a disadvantage because internet-based business is changing very quickly, noting that in the Czech Republic her company regularly organises online education for smaller businesses to help them to better use the services offered by Google.

“We have an online university for small and medium-sized businesses,” le Moige said. “These entrepreneurs typically do not have time to attend lectures because they deal with many other important business issues and this is something they can turn on at 9 o’clock in the evening.”

Google in Slovakia does not have any specific educational plans right now but is working on developing them.

“We will use the summer for planning,” Jana Zichová, communication and public affairs manager at Google in the Czech Republic, told The Slovak Spectator, adding that they need to find out, in cooperation with organisations like SŽZ, how businesses in Slovakia operate and the kinds of educational models that would be most suitable.

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