Serbia - Country Commercial Guide
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2021-03-08

For first-time exporters to the market, it is important to note that distinct cultural differences between Serbia and the United States translate into different local labeling regulations, which may dictate changes in selling, advertising, and marketing for U.S. firms. Although many strategies used by firms in the United States can be equally effective in Serbia, U.S. companies are advised not to automatically assume that selling in Serbia is the same as selling in the domestic U.S. market. Companies should carefully research the implications of promotional activities prior to their implementation in Serbia.

A tight credit policy in Serbian banks, exacerbated by external shocks, makes the ability to provide financing a key factor in selling both industrial and “high ticket value” consumer goods. Many Serbian buyers prefer to pay in monthly installments even for low-cost goods. Sales techniques critical to success include close and frequent contact with buyers, motivated and trained partners, and aggressive market promotion. U.S. firms interested in selling products to state-owned companies will need to establish the company’s creditability with Serbian government entities. Internationally-financed public procurements offer the best opportunity for transparent purchasing decisions.

Trade Promotion & Advertising

Aggressive product promotion and advertising are effective tools in Serbia, especially for consumer goods, where brand image is important. U.S. products face fierce competition from both local and European sellers. Television and radio advertising are the most effective. Television, which reaches 90 percent of households, has the broadest reach of all media. Serbia has two state-owned and three private TV channels with national coverage (RTS, Pink, Prva, Happy TV, RTV). There are also five regional channels.

Serbian law restricts advertising on state television to six minutes per hour. Advertising on privately-owned (regional and local) television stations cannot exceed 20 percent of total program length. The most advertised products are telecommunications, vehicles, financial institutions, beverages, newspapers, and hygiene products. Serbian law prohibits the advertisement of tobacco and alcohol on television. Digital printing and commercial graphics are widely used in Serbia, including billboards that cover entire building facades.

Trade promotion events and fairs continue to be popular in Serbia, although they lack the level of sophistication that many U.S. exhibitors have become accustomed to in other markets. The Belgrade Fair maintains its tradition of organizing industry-focused or specialty exhibitions such as automotive, construction equipment, furniture, fashion, medical, pharmaceutical, books, tourism, etc. Although relatively small, the Belgrade Fair attracts international attention and includes numerous foreign exhibitors. For more information on these events, please contact: info@sajam.rs In addition, Novi Sad Fair organizes the biggest agriculture trade show in Serbia.

There are many domestic advertising agencies, but most are small and lack the client base required for significant media buying discounts. Some local advertising agencies have links to U.S. advertisers. The vast majority of the international agencies are in partnership with domestic agencies.

There are more than 10,000 billboards in Serbia. Prices vary depending on the location, frequency, and category. Billboards are frequently used for political and election campaigns and are increasing in popularity in urban areas for consumer goods and services.

U.S. Commercial Service Serbia aids U.S. exporters to promote their products through the Single Company Promotion (SCP) service.

For more information on advertising in Serbia, please see the Law on Advertising:http://mtt.gov.rs/download/1(2)/Zakon%20o%20oglasavanju.pdf

Pricing

In 2019, the minimum net monthly salary in Serbia was USD 270, and the average net monthly salary was USD 550. As a result, price remains a key and sensitive factor for consumers. There is, however, a sizeable segment of the population with significantly higher earning power. There is a gap between prices in urban areas and those in rural areas. Most food prices remain below EU levels.

The value-added tax (VAT) rate in Serbia is 20 percent. There is also reduced VAT of 10 percent, mainly for groceries, books, and medicines. VAT is charged on assets and services consumed in Serbia, as well as on imports into Serbia.

Changes in the price of certain basic local products (for example, milk, bread, flour, and cooking oil) must be reported to the Ministry of Trade 15 days in advance, and the state has the authority to deny price increases for those goods. The state directly controls the price of utilities, public transportation, and telecommunication services. Significant black and gray market sales exist for many products, especially consumer goods, to avoid high customs and taxes.

Local Professional Services

For an extensive list of professional service providers, please contact: belgrade@trade.gov

The members of AmCham Serbia likewise often have experience in supporting U.S. companies entering or present in the market.

Principal Business Associations

The key U.S. business association in Serbia, the American Chamber of Commerce Serbia, is very active and well organized. It has a total of 209 members, of which about one-third are U.S. companies. The rest are Serbian or international companies and non-profit associations. Most of the U.S. companies present in Serbia are members of AmCham Serbia, which is an accredited affiliate of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington and the AmChams in Europe (ACE) network. The key Serbian business association is the Serbian Chamber of Commerce (PKS), in which membership is mandatory for all companies registered in Serbia. Serbia also has an active Foreign Investors Council (FIC) and Serbian Association of Managers (SAM).

Web Resources

Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services

Serbia has a “zero-tolerance” ban on the importation of products containing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). There is some controversy, however, about the wording of the law, in which small traces of GMO below a certain threshold are permitted without the requirement to disclose that on the labelling. Please contact U.S. Commercial Service Belgrade and the Foreign Agricultural Service in Belgrade for more information and assistance on these products. As Serbia looks to join the World Trade Organization, it will be required to modify this GMO law as a condition for membership. The timeline for this is uncertain, however, given the strong anti-GMO sentiment among the public and no champions of greater tolerance for GMOs among government officials. 

While there is high demand for pork products and live piglets, Serbia does not accept U.S. export testing procedures to grant entry into Serbia.  Contact the Foreign Agricultural Service for more information.

Sales Service/Customer Support

The Ministry of Trade Tourism and Telecommunications requires that all businesses provide adequate after-sales service and customer support. Consumer organizations have gained strength in Serbia. The National Strategy for Consumer Protection prescribes a significant extension of the obligations of local authorities; the creation of a unified register of consumer queries and claims; and the enhancement of out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes to relieve the courts and ensure a more efficient enforcement of consumer rights.

The Consumer Protection Law enacted in 2014 and amended in 2016 and 2018 (Serbian Official Gazette: 62/2014; 6/2016; 44/2018) is generally compliant with the EU consumer protection directive and further improves the protection and position of consumers. However, its effects will depend on the adoption of the by-laws necessary to regulate it in more detail, the conditions for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes, and the rules for bodies resolving such disputes.

The Law on Consumer Protection requires that retailers thoroughly inform consumers about their goods or services, including the price per unit of the product, and specifications related to the purchase of technical equipment. While producers are solely responsible for the product’s manufacture and meeting stated specifications, retailers must respond to consumer complaints within eight days with a proposal as to how to solve the problem.  They likewise must provide customers with the opportunity to be present during a review by authorities the control if there is a question of whether the customer had been misled during the measuring or charging process. Traders must keep records of complaints, which are kept for two years. They must designate a section in the store and personnel for receiving complaints.

For financial services, the National Bank of Serbia (NBS) established the Institute of Financial Services Consumer Protection, along with a special organizational unit – the Department for Financial Consumer Protection and Education. This Department also includes the NBS Call Centre, where citizens can obtain information about advantages and risks to be considered when deciding which financial products and services to use.

The National Council for Consumer Protection is an expert advisory body that was formed to improve the system of consumer protection and foster cooperation between the authorities and other consumer protection entities, including representatives of consumer associations, experts, and chambers of commerce. It is an independent, non-governmental, and non-partisan alliance of consumer organizations. Also, some organizations (e.g., the Consumer Centre of Serbia, Centre for Consumer Education and Protection Belgrade, Consumers’ Association of Vojvodina, and FORUM-Nis) work together on consumer protection advocacy.

Key Links:

Consumer Protection Law - http://mtt.gov.rs/download/1(2)/ZZP.pdf

National Bank of Serbia - https://www.nbs.rs/internet/english/63/index.html

Data Privacy and Protection

Following implementation of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Serbia enacted a new Data Protection Law (DP Law) in November 2018. The new law significantly expands the existing right of individuals to receive information about the processing of and access to their personal data. According to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection, full implementation should be completed in 2020. However, a significant number of challenges remain, including regulation of video surveillance, biometric data processing, and HR data processing, leaving significant room for arbitrary decisions by the Commissioner for Data Protection.

The law applies not only to the processing of data by Serbian controllers and processors, but also by the those based outside of Serbia whose processing activities relate to Serbian data subjects within Serbia. As a result, under the DP Law, entities that process personal data must have a data protection officer (DPO) to ensure compliance and to communicate with the Serbian Data Protection Authority (DPA) and data subjects on all data-protection matters.

The DPO provisions are not being fully implemented yet because of a lack of trained personnel, even in the Government of Serbia. Similar to the GDPR, the DPO obligation applies if:

  • The processing is carried out by a public authority (with the exception of a court performing its judiciary authorizations); or
  • The core activities of the controller/processor require the regular and systematic monitoring of data subjects on a large scale, or the large-scale processing of special categories of personal data (e.g., health data, trade union memberships, criminal convictions/offenses).

The DPO may be employed or engaged under a service contract, but in any case must have expert knowledge of data privacy as well as the company’s processes. A group of companies may appoint a single DPO, provided that he is equally accessible by each company. Controllers and processors are required to ensure the DPO’s independence in the performance of his tasks.