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Survival Guide
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Starting an online store is no easy business

By Alexandra Kassimi

It took 10 months, a fat bundle of paperwork, countless certificates, long hours of haggling with bureaucrats and overcoming myriad other inconceivable obstacles for one group of young entrepreneurs to open an online store.

As e-commerce continues to gain ground apace abroad, and even Greeks seem to be warming to the idea of Internet shopping, opening an online store based in Greece is no job for the fainthearted.

“An online store is more complicated than a regular store basically because of the way payments are carried out,” explained Fotis Antonopoulos, one of the co-founders of www.oliveshop.com, which sells olive oil-based products such as cosmetics, mostly to foreign markets.

“Most stores begin operating after receiving only the approval regarding their brand name, as the bureaucracy involved takes such a long time to complete that it is simply impossible to keep up with the operational costs, such as paying rent on obligatory headquarters, without making any sales,” said Antonopoulos.

Antonopoulos and his partners spent hours collecting papers from tax offices, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the municipal service where the company is based, the health inspector’s office, the fire department and banks. At the health department, they were told that all the shareholders of the company would have to provide chest X-rays, and, in the most surreal demand of all, stool samples.

Once they climbed the crazy mountain of Greek bureaucracy and reached the summit, they faced the quagmire of the bank, where the issue of how to confirm the credit card details of customers ended in the bank demanding that the entire website be in Greek only, including the names of the products.

“They completely ignored us, however much we explained that our products are aimed at foreign markets and everything has to be written in English as well,” said Antonopoulos.

Eventually, Antonopoulos and his associates decided to use foreign banking systems like PayPal, and cut the Greek bank, with which they had been negotiating for three months, from the middle. “It’s their loss, not ours. We eventually solved the problem in just one day,” explained Antonopoulos.

Antonopoulos describes the massive difference between the treatment he and his partners received from the Greek authorities and the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA), whose approval Oliveshop.com needed in order to export its products to the USA.

“I contacted the FDA and they sent us an e-mail with directions immediately. I filled in an online form and was done in five minutes. We received the approval 24 hours after making our application.”

The online store has already been in operation for five months and has received orders from countries as diverse as Denmark, Germany, Norway, Mongolia and the USA. The company is already covering its operational costs and is working on expanding its site with two new versions, in German and Italian.

According to recent studies, e-commerce accounted for 1.7 billion euros in sales last year in Greece, or a 30 percent increase compared to 2010.

The Athens University of Economics and Business found that 1.5 million consumers make online purchases on average 14-15 times a year, while Greek consumers who use the Internet regularly will spend an average of 1,150 euros a year on online purchases, two-thirds of which go to Greek e-shops.

ekathimerini.com , Tuesday February 21, 2012 (20:15)  
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