Author: Jonathan Matchett, UK Managing Director, wnDirect
In 2010 internet penetration was at 37 per cent. By 2015 this figure had reached 70 per cent with 84 million Russians aged 16 and above using the internet.
Not surprisingly eCommerce has increased alongside internet penetration with an estimated 148 million orders generated in 2015. As familiarity with online shopping has grown confidence in cross border shopping has also increased. In 2015, the value of cross border sales was in the region on $3.4 billion, up 55% from 2014. Access to a wider range of products and brands, lower cost goods and quality are all reasons cited for making cross border purchases.
But what about Russia’s economic state? According to the International Monetary Foundation (IMF) Russia’s economy contracted by almost 4 per cent in 2015 and is set to decline further this year. Online retail wasn’t immune to this downturn with a number of the big, local players forced to suspend their online activities including auction and marketplace Molotok.ru, one of the country’s most established eCommerce sites. Combined with this there is also the ailing road and rail infrastructure and an exceptionally vast geography to consider. Still worth a punt?
As long as you know what you’re up against ‘yes’ would seem to be the answer. So what are some of the golden rules?
Don’t assume it’s all about Google
In the UK Google has become so powerful its name has even been turned into a verb meaning ‘to search the internet’. Yet don’t assume everyone feels the same way about the brainchild of the Stamford University PhD students. In Russia the most popular search engine is Yandex. Admittedly Google is still a major player but those marketing in Russia should optimise for Yandex first if they want to make an impact in the search results.
Consider the small screen
As is often the case with those slower to catch up they don’t bother to follow the same steps but, instead, play leapfrog. This is being witnessed in Russia where mobile internet access has more than doubled. Around 50 million users in Russia are now accessing the internet from mobile devices, which is 42 per cent of the adult population. So make sure your online retail offering is optimised for mobile devices, otherwise you are unlikely to get a look in.
Make sure you’re understood
Russians like to search the internet in their local language. So that’s just a case of hiring a translator isn’t it? Well not quite, it is said that the Russian language is one of the most difficult in the world. Whilst some may dispute that title there is no doubt that the Cyrillic alphabet is rather challenging. It is also not just about the words and letters, but ensuring the content is localised and that the target audiences identify enough with the content to be able to trust the site. As with all online activity trust is a significant factor, and it is no different in Russia. A western site masquerading as someone who understand Russia is not going to fare too well. Many companies have failed in Russia because they failed to understand the intricacies of their local audiences.
So it is as simple as that. Build a localised, trusted, easily understood brand (in local language). Make sure you can deliver cost effectively across vastly different terrains and a slice of the cross border sales, the fastest growing segment of the Russian eCommerce market, can be yours.