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INTERVIEW - N. Macedonia's e-commerce firms need to use pandemic-driven growth to expand further

INTERVIEW - N. Macedonia's e-commerce firms need to use pandemic-driven growth to expand further Photo: Nina Angelovska

SKOPJE (N. Macedonia), September 14 (SeeNews) - North Macedonian e-commerce companies should use the momentum gained from the increase in online shoppers driven by the Covid-19 pandemic to strengthen their competitiveness and readiness to compete internationally, Nina Angelovska, president of the Macedonian E-commerce Association, told SeeNews.

"The Covid outbreak has put domestic e-commerce ‘on steroids’ and I believe that now is the time to even further accelerate the growth of the industry. Now, more and more companies are becoming aware about the potential of e-commerce and more people are turning to online shopping. The pandemic made a strong push on e-commerce, driving more and more businesses and people to adapt by switching from traditional to online commerce," Angelovska told SeeNews in a recent interview.

The e-commerce market should continue to grow in the short term, although at a slower pace than during the pandemic, but still faster than the pre-pandemic rate, Angelovska said.

In North Macedonia, online transactions towards local e-shops noted an increase of 135% in 2020 compared to 2019, Angelovska said, citing central bank data.

At the same time, however, the data shows that e-commerce turnover to foreign e-shops and platforms decreased last year due to lower demand for booking hotels, travel and airline tickets.

According to a survey carried out by the Macedonian E-commerce Association in its Ecommerce Analysis Report, 37% of shoppers have increased their online purchases since the start of the pandemic, while 46% of the respondents have not changed their shopping habits. Some 20% of the respondents have started using e-government services for the first time, Angelovska said.

The measures introduced by the government to halt the spread of Covid-19 have been a very important factor in accelerating and pushing people to acquire digital skills and to start using more online services, according to Angelovska.

"The selling propositions of e-commerce during the pandemic were no longer “saving time and more convenience” but rather protecting our health or simply not having another choice during lockdowns and restrictive measures imposed by the Government. That was a very important factor in accelerating and pushing people to learn how to pay their bills online, how to shop groceries online etc."

Angelovska co-founded the Macedonian E-commerce Association in 2017 and served as North Macedonia's finance minister from September 1, 2019 to August 30, 2020. She was also the co-founder and CEO of local deal platform operator Grouper in 2011. The platform was the first of its kind in the country when it launched. Grouper was acquired by payment solutions provider Payten, part of Polish ICT group Asseco, in May.

According to Angelovska, the lack of digital skills is one of the key barriers to faster development and growth of the industry.

"To measure one’s progress we always have to compare, and if we compare North Macedonia with other European countries we stand good in the indicators for readiness for e-commerce but if we look at the actual numbers we are somewhere at the end in the charts," she commented.

Nowadays, around 40% of internet users in North Macedonia shop online, which is 36% more than a year ago and 26% up from 2017, Angelovska said, citing Eurostat data.

"When we launched Grouper, around 3% of the internet users were shopping online. I think that Grouper did impact the development of the e-commerce ecosystem a lot, but there is still a lot to be done, especially if we compare it to other countries in Europe," she added.

Local e-commerce companies also face other challenges, such as lack of skilled workforce, lack of awareness, lack of habits for e-shopping and lack of trust in local e-shops, disloyal competition with the high informal economy, insufficient use of payment cards, delivery costs and other issues, Angelovska said.

"Managing and growing an e-commerce business is extremely demanding - there is a constant need to adapt, change and implement new tools to acquire and retain customers," Angelovska added, also pointing to regulatory, infrastructure and administrative burdens for domestic companies that want to expand abroad.