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SOFIA (Bulgaria), October 19 (SeeNews) – Viber, a leading messages app globally, is holding talks with leading retailers in Southeast Europe (SEE) in a bid to tap the region's potential of burgeoning e-commerce, Atanas Raykov, director business development CIS and Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), told SeeNews.
"We are already in talks with our first partners, who are leaders in the specific verticals where we see greatest opportunity for joint work," Raykov told SeeNews in an interview on the sidelines of a regional conference organised by United Partners and the International Public Relations Association in Sofia last week.
"We see a lot of interesting things going on in e-commerce in the region," Raykov added.
E-commerce in SEE, though quickly gaining momentum on the back of rising consumer spending, remains below the EU average.
In Bulgaria, online commerce expanded by 14% in 2016, faster than the average growth rate of 12% recorded in Europe in the same year, the country's deputy minister of information technology and communications, Dimitar Genovski, said earlier this year.
However, according to Eurostat data, Bulgarian companies, which generated online sales in 2016, represented only 9% of the companies operating in the country. In Croatia this share was 19%, as compared to an EU average of 20%. An interesting fact is that the highest share, 78%, of online shoppers, who ordered clothes and/or sports goods - the top category of online purchases in EU - in 2016 was registered in Bulgaria, Eurostat data showed.
"We want to tap on the experience of our parent company, which is one of the global tech leaders in e-commerce," Raykov said.
Viber, with a user base of more than 900 million people worldwide, is part of Japan-based electronic commerce and Internet company Rakuten Group.
In CEE, Viber's office is based in Bulgaria. The team also manages the markets in Serbia, Croatia, Greece and Hungary – while being active on the markets of Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro and in charge of the remaining countries of the CEE region.
The company will allow retailers to offer clients their services and products directly via Viber, planning to launch this new type of services at the same time in Serbia, Bulgaria and Croatia, Raykov said.
It has on its side high market penetration.
"Between 70 and 85% of all smartphone users in Bulgaria, Croatia and Serbia are our clients," Raykov noted.
Viber's market penetration in the region is highest in Serbia where over 85% of all smartphone users actively use Viber on a daily basis, giving the company a leading position.
Going forward, Viber's regional office will focus on businesses, media and organisations that have interesting and useful content and services, Raykov said.
The early adopters of Viber services are small and medium-sized enterprises, Raykov said, pointing to taxi companies, whose clients increasingly often opt for a chat bot rather than a mobile app to order a taxi. The list also features banks, which offer nearly the entire portfolio of mobile services on the Viber platform.
To ensure the highest level of security, in 2016 Viber rolled out end-to-end encryption for all conversations on its platform, with no storage of information on servers, which is largely seen as one of its main advantages to popular social media.
"Based on the pace at which the number of smartphone users in the region increases, we expect our client base in CEE to grow by a further 10-15%," Raykov commented.
The expanding client base gives Viber grounds for optimism regarding its financial performance next year.
"We expect to generate up to five times higher revenues from operations in CEE next year," he concluded.