Going online could be lifeline for crisis-hit businesses

Hit by the lingering economic crisis, an increasing number of Greek businesses are turning to e-commerce, which is currently growing at an astounding rate.

According to a recent study conducted by the Electronic Trading Research Unit (ELTRUN) of the Athens University of Economics and Business, which has teamed up with the Development Ministry?s general secretary for commerce to write up a rulebook for the country?s e-market, some 1.5 million Greeks made online transactions last year worth 1.7 billion euros.

Turnover from online transactions was up by 30 percent in 2011 compared to the year before, but the figure was still far below the European average, which stands at between 5 and 6 billion euros.

But fraud is widespread, experts warn. Of the 2,000 businesses involved in e-commerce in Greece, the study says 15 percent were found to be risky. These businesses, researchers said, do not provide basic contact details such as a street address or telephone number. Consumers are strongly advised to avoid such websites. According to the study, one in five users who do not currently make purchases online will start to do so by the end of the year.

Experts said that 40 percent of online businesses do not clearly state the terms of use, as stipulated by law, which could translate into trouble when making online transactions. In addition, more than half of Greece?s online shops lack basic services and certification by an independent authority.

Nevertheless, according to the same study, one in four e-shops in Greece offer quality services, on a par with those of their international counterparts, such as order information and after-sales service. Stefanos Komninos, the Development Ministry?s general secretary for trade, recently said that the state is planning to introduce a certificate for as well as a register of online stores.

In addition, Komninos announced the promotion of new standards for electronic invoicing. He predicted the rapid growth of the e-market, which could prove to be a lifeline for many businesses and help to boost exports.

The cost of setting up an online business has gone down to 5,000 euros from 30,000 three years ago, while operational costs are significantly lower than those of a traditional retail store.