Nowadays the Internet industry develops faster than any other field of the world economy. Annually increase in sales in the Internet achieves 20% and at the beginning of 2001 this index was more then USD 3 billion. Annually millions of new sites appear in the Net, millions of people become Internet users. According to an evaluation of experts, the amount of Web pages in the Internet is more than amount of people in the whole world. So experts assert that the Internet is our future. Besides, the richest man of the world, the owner of the Microsoft corporation Bill Gates sad: “If in 10 years you do not have a business in the Internet, you will not have a business in general…”
In Belarus the Internet boom began in the year of 2000. About 80% of all Belorussian Web sites appeared just in that year and the amount of Internet users increased approximately in 2 times.
For example, in January of 2001 the Belorussian Internet agency “MediaReklama” investigated Bynet. It came to the conclusion, that nowadays there are already 100.000 Internet users in Belarus (look at the table). About 82,5% of all users are men. In other words, only 1% of population of the country knows about the Net. Of course, the number of users is not large, but in 2000 this index was only 40.000.
The agency “MediaReklama” also cleared up, that the interests of Internet users were different. The majority of them pay more attention to computer themes and a not great number – to eCommerce (look at the next table).
19,9% people make purchases in Belorussian Internet shops often and with great pleasure, 3,1% -- only 1-2 times in month, 1,8% -- regularly, 5,5% are not satisfied with the service of these shops and 69,8% have not even tried to make purchases online.
These are the common results of investigation, which were made by the Belorussian Internet agency “MediaReklama.” They help to collect important materials to determine the most perspective directions for development of business in the Internet.
Of course, the Belorussian Internet market is very little now, but experts assert confidently about perspectives of Belorussian market. More and more Belorussian businessmen invest money in Bynet. In 2000 in the Belorussian market appeared so-called “Dotcoms” [dotkoms]. These are firms that do business only in the Net. The most widespread form of eCommerce in Belarus became the creation of a Web shop. Now, as “Belorussian Business Newspaper” asserts, there are 270 Web shops in Belarus. 250 of them appeared during the last year. This increase was expected: all business niches in Bynet are not filled completely or absolutely free. Besides, more and more businessmen strive to become the first in this sector and to fill free niches.
So, there is no doubt that eCommerce in Belarus develops rapidly. But very many circumstances brake this development.
Firstly, in 1999 French Social Organization exposed 45 countries, which limit access to the Internet. Belarus is one of the most serious countries-enemies of the Internet, such as China, Iran, Iraq, Cuba, Syria, and Tunis. In Belarus exists a state monopoly on all canals of connection. For example, there is only one television canal in Belarus and it is state; the monopoly controls telephone connection and the Internet. A monopolist in Belarus is a state company “Beltelecom,” which put down all competitors and disturb them to develop their ideas in the Internet.
Secondly, recently was launched a program for development the country's "information superhighways." But the authoritarian regime of president Alexander Lukachenko began setting up a system to monitor the Internet, as early as 1992. Just like opposition media sites, advertisers, who fear reprisals from the authorities, ignore independent sites.
Thirdly, less then 1% of population has credit or debit cards. That is why Web shops in Bynet work with a principle “Belorussian Internet shops for Belorussians”: only Belorussian people can order commodities in Belorussian Web shops. In other countries Web shops are international: customers make payments with the help of credit cards Visa or MasterCard. For example, a customer from South Africa can make an order in a Canadian Web shop without any problems with the help of a MasterCard. Belorussian Internet shops, on the contrary, do not support this standard, and customers from other countries can not buy goods in Bynet.
Fourthly, an access to the Internet for users costs a lot, approximately 1-2$ in hour. Unlimited access costs more than 100$ in month. Moreover, the speed of joining with the Internet is low. It is only 33,6Kb/in sec.
But the main problem is connected with the old Belorussian legislation. First of all, it does not support such world famous Internet standards as PayPall, WebMoney, HomeBanking. Moreover, the authoritative Belorussian magazine “Delo” asserts that it is impossible to open a Web shop in Belarus and don’t infringe the laws of the Republic. And this statement is true.
If a businessman decides to open an Internet shop in Belarus, he will face with a big number of problems. At first he should know exactly, what the trade in the Internet in Belorussian legislation is. As a rule, the technical process of this kind of trade can be described in this way:
a customer looks over information about goods on a screen of a computer and then makes an order;
a courier delivers a commodity to the address, given by the buyer;
a payment can be made in cash at the time of the commodity’s receipt or in non-cash way before or after receipt.
This kind of trade, in comparison with traditional retail or wholesale trade, does not need an office or a kiosk. If a businessman sells goods only to the population, his activity is interpreted as a “retail trade”. If he wants to know more clearly about this kind of business activity, he should read a document called “Trade. Terms and definition». The Ministry of Trade of the Republic of Belarus approved it. In this document a businessman can find only the term “A trade, connected with the order of goods by mail, catalogue or telephone”. So, there is no special item in the document for the Internet trade. That is why some Belorussian officials do notwant to register entrepreneurs, who do business in the Net.
But the main problem in organization of Internet shop is the receipt of a business license in an Executive committee. Executive committees in Belarus almost never register firms, which trade connected only with the order of goods by mail, catalogues or telephone. Businessmen, that have shops only in the Net, have no a kiosk or a stall, because customers find all goods at businessmen’s Web sites. But according to the Belorussian legislation, if businessmen want to sell goods in the Internet in Belarus legally, they have to have a kiosk or a stall: only then you will get a license.
Thus, in Belarus there is a big number of circumstances, which hinder the development of eCommerce.
Only recently the positive tendencies were scheduled in Belarus. In March of 2001 a special commission of Ministry of Communications was in session. After this meeting
the conservative Belorussian authorities created a special program of the active development of the “New economy” in the republic;
the Belorussian government has opened an official representation in the Internet;
the Belorussian Parliament made a special corrections connected with Internet in the Crime and Civil Codes of the country;
the President Alexander Lukashenko was the second head of the country after Bill Clintone, who decided to accept a law about eSignature.
the President began to support electronic commerce with the help of International Social Unit.
In the conclusion I should say, that eCommers in Belarus develops, but develops much faster than the legislation of the republic. The potential of eCommerce in Bynet is very high. And now the level of the Internet industry in the country is not far from the world standards. But the old Belorusian legislation doesn’t allow for the development of this sector of the economy. So, only the global transformations can advance eCommerce in Belarus.