Swiss Trustmark: Using Switzerland’s excellent image for economic development

06 July 2017

Interview to Beat Vonlanthen, Member of the Council of States

Q: Switzerland has a certain reputation in the wider world - an association with values such as trust, security of money and punctuality. Do you believe this gives Swiss businesses a unique advantage when it comes to selling online?

A: Trust plays an essential role in online selling, in particular with respect to security of payments, delivery services and data protection. As many studies show, customers often feel uncertain about the seller’s reliability, in particular in the case of small and relatively specialized providers. Customers then tend to cancel the purchase process.

Regarding the issue of trust, online sellers based in Switzerland have a competitive advantage thanks to the reputation of the country and therefore also an additional potential for development. The export industry already benefits today from the values that are typically associated with “Swissness”, such as product quality and the reliability of the services. For the highly export-orientated Swiss economy, it is important to also make use of this advantage in the digital world.


Q: You have submitted a motion to the Council of States proposing institutional backing for a “Trust Mark” - a label to identify Swiss e-commerce websites, so that shoppers can associate them with the trust they place in Swiss businesses. Could you outline the idea of this scheme, who would be certified and why?

A: In the today’s global market environment, the image of a country has a major impact on the success of companies which are located there. A recent ranking by “Brand Finance” shows that Switzerland is the second most valuable national brand in the world, after only Singapore. The idea of the trust mark is to capitalize on the excellent Swiss image in order to increase the market opportunities of Switzerland based online sellers. The trust mark will demonstrate that the company is legally registered as a Swiss company, that it is financially sound, and that it uses Swiss-registered payment and logistics service providers.


Q: Small and medium-sized enterprises constitute the backbone of the Swiss economy. Many of them are still cautious when it comes to offering direct cross border online sales. What benefits does the initiative offer them?

A: The proportion of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with internationalization strategies is continually growing. However, SMEs have much more limited resources and substantially smaller networks than large enterprises. This means that selling abroad is a particular challenge for them. And in this context, selling online to overseas buyers is a particularly interesting and promising option. It allows smaller enterprises to reach potential customers directly even in the most distant markets and therefore to implement internationalization strategies more efficiently. Being connected with the national brand of Switzerland can make a decisive contribution to the success of such a strategy.


Q: Do you think that an increase in worldwide customers choosing to shop from certified Swiss e-commerce sites could make the country an attractive location for overseas businesses - say, from the USA - wishing to establish an operation in Europe, or for online shopping start-ups seeking a base to launch from?

A: Switzerland offers numerous advantages to companies engaged in the growing e-commerce sector. Foreign companies benefit from well-functioning and effective structures, for example in the field of logistics such as delivery services and transport, as well as from high standards concerning data protection and intellectual property rights. These factors are particularly important in digital business. The task is now to develop a policy and a legal framework that will allow businesses to take full advantage of these opportunities.


Q: Outside of e-commerce and its related industries, do you believe an uplift in Swiss e-commerce could benefit the country as a whole - in terms of job creation, perhaps?

A: Further internationalization has a positive economic impact at different levels. Reinforcing the Swiss export sector contributes to the stability and growth opportunities of the whole economy and along the entire value chain. Opening up new international markets also positively impacts the capacity for innovation and technological progress of Swiss companies. Finally, we must not forget that the ongoing digital revolution and globalization are profoundly changing business models. New and innovative approaches in the export sector will allow Switzerland to defend and strengthen her economic position in the long-term.


Q: What first brought the idea of the Trust Mark in particular, and the idea of growing e-commerce in Switzerland, to your attention personally - do you have a particular interest in the digital economy?

A: Digital transformation presents a major challenge to traditional business models and to society in general - for example, in relation to our working environments and educational systems. The rapid change opens up new opportunities for innovative ideas and approaches. Since economic promotion is a key area in political terms, I was naturally interested in initiatives that allow Switzerland to grow her export sector through e-commerce. The trust mark project is all the more important in the light of the current economic challenges presented by cross-border shopping tourism from Switzerland to neighbouring countries and the high value of Swiss currency.   


Q: Are there any other areas in which you believe that Parliament might be able to help Swiss e-commerce businesses perform even better in the global marketplace?

A: Several issues should be addressed as a priority. An important aspect concerns the ongoing implementation of the European Digital Single Market strategy. Since Europe is the most important market for Swiss companies, we should strive to cooperate closely with European institutions in order to ensure the compatibility of relevant legal provisions in the field of e-commerce. It is also important to simplify as far as possible the formalities of export and customs, which represent a barrier in particular for small companies with few resources. Finally, it is important that up-to-date information about legal regulations in other countries and support services are available to companies that wish to develop an online business. 

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