For the first time since 2010, when the Serbian National Internet Domain Name Registry Foundation (RNIDS) began organising DIDS (Serbian Internet Domains Day), this conference was held completely online. Its slogan, “Servant. Master. Internet.” was meant to summarise the central topic in three words: the role of the Internet in our lives and businesses over the last year. From the first case of coronavirus in Serbia until today a significant portion of the economy has been experiencing a slowdown, but there have also been areas in which surprising growth has been seen, such as in e-commerce and delivery services. The speakers and participants of the panel debates at DIDS shared data on current and expected trends, and also gave some specific advice on how to optimise web stores and improve communication with clients. Evidence of the “new normal” we have been hearing about for months could be seen in the fact that speakers got praise in the chat window on the conference website instead of applause. Viewers’ comments were permeated with a sense of nostalgia for the personal contact, face-to-face conversation and socialising that DIDS attendees have become accustomed to, but they also had words of praise for the digital version, which in many ways set new standards for online conferences, ensuring the audience felt far less “virtual”.
The conference was officially opened by Milan Dobrijević, Assistant Minister of Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, who noted that we are using the Internet and telecommunications today more than ever. He praised RNIDS’ work so far in creating an ecosystem for the normal and stable functioning of the Internet in Serbia and added that the government was investing significant efforts in expanding this.
Danko Jevtović, member of the ICANN Board of Directors, explained the functioning of this international organisation and its responsibility for the technical coordination of the Internet and managing the system of identifiers on it. However he also noted the importance in this process of national organisations such as our own RNIDS, whose work in establishing and promoting national domains enabled the Internet to truly be made accessible to everyone regardless of the language or script they use.
Serbia actually has two domains that facilitate this: .rs and .срб. Dejan Đukić, director of RNIDS, said that these now occupied a two-thirds’ share of the domain market in Serbia. They were appreciated both by Google and by users.
The New Normal – Digital and the age of COVID
The first speaker at this year’s DIDS was Kei Shimada, American entrepreneur and angel investor who currently heads the Digital Makers Lab at IBM Japan. Shimada noted a number of trends which the pandemic had triggered: working from home and the new services and applications that make it possible, remote learning, exercising at home, e-commerce, contactless interfaces and technologies in the area of medical protection and hygiene. Most of these trends have made themselves apparent in our society too. Shimada said that Serbian companies need not reinvent the wheel, it was enough to keep up with experiences and innovations in the rest of the world and tailor them to their own market.
How COVID pushed the slow turning wheels of domain registration: a story of myths and data
Peter Van Roste, General Manager of CENTR, the Council of European National Top-Level Domain Registries (CENTR), talked about the growth in registrations of domains during the pandemic, but also tried to dispel some myths about online fraud.
Over the preceding months we have seen warnings from numerous Internet security firms claiming that the pandemic has given impetus to cyber criminals, including those registering domains in order to perpetrate fraud on the Internet. However, of the 750,000 domains registered in the first three months last year, only 0.8% had anything to do with COVID. Of those, “only a handful,” said Van Roste, had been confirmed to be used for cyber crime and fraud.
As regards domain name registrations, Van Roste noted that a growth in interest had been observed in Europe since the beginning of the pandemic, but that ccTLDs were at the forefront. Their growth was at a six-year high of 4.4% – double the growth seen in generic domains, Van Roste said.
(Good) servant / (bad) master: the Internet
Has the Internet been a (good) servant or (bad) master to large companies, and what transformations in business has it facilitated since the beginning of the pandemic – these were the questions addressed in a panel debate of the same title, moderated by Vladimir Radunović.
Branka Petronijević, marketing manager at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Belgrade, took the view that the Internet was a good servant if you knew how to use it, made efforts to get to know your clients and offered them the service they needed. Sometimes, especially in a situation like a global pandemic, it was permissible, even desirable to occasionally express an emotion such as empathy in your business.
Food delivery has proved a very profitable business during the pandemic, said Branimir Đurović, general manager of Glovo Serbia. However, he made it clear that for sustainable growth more was needed than mere adaptation to market conditions and “seizing the moment” – knowing the needs of your clients was essential too.
Momir Đekić, digital transformation consultant at Symphony, agreed with the other participants in the debate that customer satisfaction ought to be the priority of every company. “However, that doesn’t mean companies should only focus on meeting their clients’ wishes – they need to predict their needs, too.”
Communication v2021: healthier after the pandemic
Vojislav Žanetić, satirist, screenwriter and market communications consultant, shared his view on what communication will look like in the post-pandemic world.
“The pandemic has limited our mobility and thus our freedom. The alternative we have been offered is to transition to digital business models and to work from home, at least this is the case for some sections of the population who are considered non-essential. Other professions such as health workers or those providing city services have remained ‘analogue’. So civilisation has been divided into digital and analogue communities. With that in mind, communication also needs to target all structures in society,” said Žanetić.
Optimising your website for better conversions
Dimitrije Ostojić, digital marketing expert and director of the Default Design marketing agency shared advice with the DIDS audience on achieving better website conversions. He emphasised that in this context a conversion was any action the site user took on their customer journey. For a user to pass through all the stages we want, the site needs to be clearly laid out, intuitive and communicate clear messages.
Fake choice – an introduction to dark UI
Paul Snoxxel, creative director at Wunderman Thompson London, explained some of the many tricks website creators use. Sales sites very often subtly steer users into buying things they did not want, or to submit data they were not planning to share with others. They do this in a variety of ways – using garish colours to bait users or over-emphasising buttons to draw clicks. He advised companies, before they resort to this way of doing business, to ask themselves whether they themselves would agree to the terms they are hoping to offer their users.
e-Commerce Association of Serbia: e-commerce in Serbia – the new normal
Members of the board of the e-Commerce Association of Serbia, Marko Mudrinić and Ivan Tanasković, said that the COVID-19 pandemic had pushed forward the growth of e-commerce by a full five years. The delivery sector has also seen major growth.
According to data from the National Bank of Serbia, e-commerce has been on the rise since 2013, but in 2020 year-on-year growth in online card payments hit 103.5%, the increase in the value of these transactions was 80% and the total value of transactions using cards rose by 33.3%.
Small producers online
The pandemic has made business more difficult for small producers but has also opened up new channels of communication with customers, believes the moderator of this panel debate, Milica Čalija, owner of the Anđeli (Angels) brand. When she started manufacturing oat cakes in 2012 she could not have imagined that one day she would be selling them via the Internet. However today this is a normal sales channel for her.
“All our channels of communication with customers are important, but our website is most important of all, in my opinion, because it is the only channel that is truly ours. The social networks belong to private companies,” says Čalija and adds that the Internet is a very good servant but can sometimes be a bad master, too, because customer trust takes a long time to build but can very quickly crumble, too.
However, during the pandemic it has proven to be not only a significant source of income for small producers but in some cases the only source, especially at those times when their retail outlets were closed, says Ana Nešić, from the Mali Proizvođači (Small Producers) platform. At these times interest in buying online has grown, and she hopes it will continue even after the pandemic is over.
Marija Slović, entrepreneur and owner of the Domaccini store is working on improving delivery services, but that is not the only challenge she faces. Because she sells high-quality food items made by Serbian producers, when she was investing in her web store her main concern was whether people would be willing to buy, dairy products – for example – even if they had not tasted them first like they can at the farmer’s market. It turns out they are willing, she says, and not a few of them, either.
E-commerce 2021 in Serbia: the chance and the need to be different
Vladimir Kovač, Internet entrepreneur and moderator of the last panel debate at this year’s DIDS, shared the keys to success in e-commerce. His guests agreed that the pandemic had stimulated growth in e-commerce, but also warned that consideration needed to be given to the future sustainability of this business model.
One of the ways of succeeding in e-commerce is to be different to the competition, said Aleksandar Ilić, executive director of the Knjižara Roman bookshop. His bookshop has achieved this by introducing book deliveries to anywhere in Belgrade within 60 minutes of an order. They also make an effort to establish a personal relationship with the customer, sending them handwritten holiday greeting cards and often communicating with them to recommend books to them. Customers have responded very positively to these efforts.
Oskar Borbaš, founder of Geek Shop, owes his success to humour. He only offers one product for sale – the Bobby (“Boban”) rucksack – in several colours and sizes. However he has a great many followers on the social networks, and buyers have been drawn in by his informal business manner and witty posts. He does not recommend, however, that people who are new to this business rely solely on humour but on a good business plan, too.
Ivan Tanasković, head of Internet sales at Planeta Sport, says customer care is his priority, too. Customers care about payment security, the certainty that they will receive the goods they have ordered, and also the ability to exchange an item or get a refund if it doesn’t suit them. “Trust really does take a long time to build but is easily lost, and that’s why every company should work on reducing the room for error. Nothing should be left to chance,” he says.
Celebrating the .RS domain
Registrations in the .RS TLD began on 10th March 2008, and the anniversary of this important date for the Serbian Internet has been marked by RNIDS ever since with the annual DIDS conference. This year’s DIDS kept up the “March tradition” and was held on 17th March, albeit in a different format – online.