With the Fourth Industrial, i.e. Digital Revolution, we have a chance to make up for lagging behind and catch up with more developed countries. This technological revolution will fundamentally change our lives, it is inevitable and unstoppable. Only winning societies choose to welcome changes, they do not averse from them. The Serbian Government believes that Serbia is ready to lead the entire region in changes that will follow and creation of new possibilities for all. The digitization process will enhance the standard and quality of life for hundreds of thousands of Serbian citizens. Efficiency will be increased, costs will be reduced and new value will be created in almost all areas of life and work. The digitization process is the most important catalyst of innovations, competitiveness and growth.
E-commerce is becoming an increasingly popular form of buying goods and services among the citizens of the Republic of Serbia. The number of internet users in the Republic of Serbia is undoubtedly increasing day by day. This is not surprising given the fact that owning a smartphone today is almost mandatory and that the former obstacles to its use, both financial and technical, are almost gone. According to a 2018 study by the Bureau of Statistics, more than 1,800,000 people have purchased something online. However, despite the considerable number of consumers purchasing goods/services online, the key in this area is that citizens need to know how to protect their rights when doing so.
The first step is to check who they are buying the product from. Whether it is a trader from the Republic of Serbia, or whether it is registered in the Republic of Serbia or abroad depends on how the consumer rights are protected.
- In the case of online purchases from a merchant registered in the Republic of Serbia, the consumer enjoys all rights guaranteed by the Law on Trade and the Law on Consumer Protection. Therefore, before ordering goods, citizens should ask the merchant for their registration details and check them on the APR website. In disputed situations, the consumer may apply to the market inspection, consumer associations or exercise their rights before the court in the Republic of Serbia.
- If it is a natural person who trades illegally, the consumer is not protected, but if he has any information about the "seller" he can submit a report to the market inspection.
- Where a consumer purchases merchandise from a foreign merchant, the rights he or she can exercise depend on the specific guarantees provided by the merchant or the online brokerage platform. Under international law, in disputed situations, the law of the country in which the seller is registered shall apply.
The consumer who purchases the goods online has a legal right to change his/her mind and return the goods to the merchant within 14 days from the day of delivery, without giving an explanation or stating the reasons, and the merchant is obliged to return the money to him/her. The consumer does not have this legal right if he/she has purchased the goods at the merchant's store (offline purchase).
E-commerce is an indicator of business sophistication and a way to enter a new market. According to the Survey of 1000 Enterprises, companies in the Republic of Serbia emphasize the importance of e-commerce in large numbers: 71% of companies agree that the importance of e-commerce as a business channel will show a great global increase in the upcoming period, and 58% believe that the same thing will happen when it comes to the Republic of Serbia. Out of the 1000 companies surveyed, 66% own their own website, but only 12% have an online store and even fewer offer online payment options (8%). The survey found that businesses that have a website and/or an e-shop sell more outside the cities where they are based (those with a website up 41% more and with an online store 31% more). This is especially evident in small businesses that have an online payment option and are 33 percent better off than similar businesses that do not have this service. Businesses that have a website and/or e-commerce sell much more in the markets of the countries of the former Yugoslavia (excluding Slovenia and Croatia). However, as the results of the Survey show, e-commerce in the Republic of Serbia is still relatively underdeveloped and the benefits offered by this way of doing business are rarely ever used, even though it is a constantly growing market. According to the Statista platform (https://www.statista.com), e-commerce revenues in the Republic of Serbia amounted to € 289 million in 2018, and are projected to reach € 328 million in 2019 and maintain an annual a growth rate of 8.9%, which will result in market revenues of € 461 million by 2023.
Such and similar results and predictions point to the need to improve and further develop e-commerce in the Republic of Serbia. As the development of the digital economy, and therefore the development of e-commerce, is one of the Government's priorities, in October 2019, the Program for the Development of E-Commerce in the Republic of Serbia for the period 2019-2020 was adopted. with an Action Plan containing a set of measures and activities aimed at enhancing all segments in the field of e-commerce (strengthening consumer confidence in online shopping, strengthening the position of e-merchants, improving logistics flows, promoting electronic payment, etc.). This is the first government program document specifically intended for the development of e-commerce in the Republic of Serbia, whose preparation was preceded by a comprehensive analysis and research on the state of e-commerce in the Republic of Serbia, conducted within the framework of the Economic Development Cooperation Project (USAID CFG) and its key results and recommendations were integrated into this programming document.