Souvenir hunting the new-fashioned way

  • 2000-05-25
  • By Darius James Ross
VILNIUS - So you don't have time this year to hop a flight to Vilnius
and spend time dawdling past the multitude of Old Town street vendors
hawking Lithuanian folk art and locally crafted trinkets for you to
bring back for your favorite in-laws. Problem solved. Just log on to
recently launched, short for Lithu-anian Mall, and
satisfy all your virtual knick-knack acquisition desires.

Building on its successful creation of Lithuania's official tourism web
site (, the highly creative Loris Ltd. Web design team
has come up with another solid offering. "The goal is to sell the work
of local craftspeople to foreigners at reasonable prices. Of course,
we're in this as a business to make money, but we want the artisans to
benefit as well. Everyone wins," said Loris' Ilja Laurs.

Right now the site offers about 500 different ceramic, wood and amber
products produced by 15 different studios. A few travel books and linen
items are available as well. "I have 35 more potential suppliers lined
up and 100 products that are just waiting to go up on the site right
now. It's simply a question of finding the time," said Eduardas
Januskevcius, the company's purchasing manager.

Loris does maintain an on-site inventory and promises delivery by
registered mail within two weeks of placing an order using the services
of Lithuania's post office. "The large courier companies are faster but
their services are out-of-reach, especially if someone is only placing
a small order. Registered mail costs 20 litas ($5) whereas delivery by
courier can be as high as 300 litas ($85) for the same item," said

The site itself is a pleasure to navigate. Products are neatly grouped
into broad categories. Click on a specific item and an enlarged photo
pops up including the actual dimensions in centimeters (a metric to
imperial converter is in the pipeline). The shopping cart is always
visible in a split screen at the bottom of the page, displaying a
running total of purchases and thumb-nail pictures as you add and
delete items. At the time of writing, not even e-commerce giant had such a handy system in place.

Security against credit card fraud is, of course, a concern. "Providing
secure, encrypted transactions is priority number one, most importantly
for the customer but for our own reputation as well," said Ilja Laurs.
"We were the first company in Lithuania to offer secure credit card
transactions," said Paulius Kazokaitis, Loris' e-marketing manager.

The reason: Lithuania's banks only provide Internet credit card vending
services to well established organizations. "We have worked very
closely with the Lithu-anian Tourism Department for a long time and
they have guaranteed our account for us. The banks are very cautious
right now about giving these privileges out to private companies due to
the high potential for fraud," said Kazokaitis. Also, Lithu-ania lags
behind Latvia and Estonia in e-commerce legislation, adding to the
banks' apprehension. If you still feel nervous about sending credit
card details over the Internet, the site will allow you to print the
items from the shopping cart directly to a fax ready form.

To date, most foreign visitors to Lithuanian Mall have been from other
North European countries and it has also been getting a healthy number
of hits from the United States (18 percent). A mirror site in Oregon
helps speed things up for North American Internet customers.
"Inexplicably, we're also getting a huge number of hits from Taiwan
which I don't quite understand," said Laurs. As famed Canadian media
guru Marshall McLuhan once said: "The new electronic interdependence
recreates the world in the image of a global village."

Another site offering a similar range of items and providing secure
credit card purchases can be found at The emphasis
is on Latvian crafts but a respectable selection of Lithuanian and
Estonian items is also available. It lacks some of the technical
conveniences of the Lithu-anian Mall site but is nevertheless well
organized and functional and does have a wider range of jewelry
available than its competitor.

Lithuanian basketball legend Sarunas Marciulio-nis' Northern European
Basketball League has also begun hawking its sportswear and other
paraphernalia at By clicking on the 'Store' button a
lethargic animated applet loads up showing a faceless male mannequin
surrounded by flames and bouncing a basketball. A gravelly voice that
sounds like it belongs to Arnold Schwarzeneggers' East European cousin
then intones: "I am Ice Breaker, welcome to NEBL store." You can buy
'Very nice NEBL cap' for $11. Yes, well, it's worth a couple of laughs
even if you're not into hoops.