Russians are shopping more online, and big players are investing to improve delivery options for web merchants, according to a new report. That’s opening the door for foreign companies to enter Russian ecommerce, although there remain Russia-specific rules and consumer preferences that must be taken into account.
Online sales of physical goods from domestic ecommerce sites increased 19% in 2018 to 1.15 trillion rubles (about $18.3 billion), according to the recently released report “E-Commerce in Russia” from East-West Digital News, an English-language news and research organization based in Moscow.
Meanwhile, cross-border sales—Russian consumers buying from foreign websites—increased 22% in terms of the number of orders shipped to Russia, according to Russia Post, which says it processed 345 million parcels destined for Russian online shoppers in 2018. Many of them came from Chinese sites like Alibaba’s AliExpress.com that sell inexpensive goods, the report says.
The report cites two estimates of the value of those cross-border purchases: $5.5 billion from research organization Data Insight, and $3.24 billion from the E-Commerce Russia Association, a trade group. Survey data shows 76% of Russia’s online shoppers said in 2018 they had purchased from non-Russian ecommerce sites, up from 65% a year earlier.
Among the foreign companies selling successfully to Russia’s online shoppers, according to East-West Digital News, are Swedish furniture retailer Ikea, Italian luxury online marketplace Yoox and U.S. nutritional supplements retailer iHerb Inc., which is No. 52 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000. Yoox is part of Yoox Net-A-Porter, which was acquired last year by Swiss luxury conglomerate Richemont Group, No. 33 in the Top 1000.
Big investments in Russian ecommerce
Seeking to satisfy Russian shoppers’ desire for foreign goods, Bringly launched in late 2018 as an online marketplace offering merchandise from abroad. Bringly is “actively seeking cross-border partnerships with foreign retailers and brands,” the report says. The new shopping site is a product of a joint venture of Russian electronic payments firm Yandex and Sberbank, Russia’s leading bank that has pledged to invest at least $500 million into the ecommerce project.
In another major deal last year, Alibaba joined forces with Mail.ru, a Russian online messaging and gaming company, to pursue online retail opportunities. The joint venture, valued by investment firm Morgan Stanley at $2 billion, plans to spend “hundreds of millions, if not billions of U.S. dollars to develop their ecommerce activities, a substantial part of these amounts being dedicated to logistics,” the report says. Delivery of online orders has been a weak spot for Russian ecommerce, with fulfillment to smaller cities often taking weeks or even months, the report notes.
Russian ecommerce regulations
The second part of the report is titled “A Practical Guide For International Players” and offers information on how Russia differs from other markets in such matters as payments, customs duties and taxes, and storage of consumer data.
For example, 70% of online orders are paid for in cash on delivery, says the report, citing Russian delivery company CDEK. However, COD is in decline, with Russian online retailer Ozon reporting that such payments fell to 26% of online orders in the first quarter of 2019 from nearly 80% five years ago, the report says. “Most foreign online stores do not offer payment-on-delivery options as Russian e-shoppers generally accept to pre-pay their orders from abroad,” the East-West Digital News report says.
The report notes a coming change in rules regarding customs duties. Today, there is no duty charged if an online shopper purchases no more than 500 euros ($555) from abroad in a given month. Purchases above that are charged a 30% fee. As of Jan. 1, 2020, the threshold will be lowered to 200 euros ($228), but that will be per package not per month, and the tax on purchases exceeding that threshold will be lowered to 15% from 30%, the report says.
U.S. retailers and Russian ecommerce
U.S. companies showed great interest in selling online in Russia in the early 2010’s, but that interest evaporated with the collapse of the ruble in the middle of the decade and the political tensions since then, says Adrien Henni, chief editor of East-West Digital News and the principal author of the report. Big Chinese ecommerce players filled the void and gained a dominant position, he says.
“Chinese giants AliExpress and JD.com entered the market with their low prices; AliExpress won the battle, establishing its absolute leadership on the Russian cross-border e-commerce scene,” Henni says. While few U.S. retailers are investing in Russia, other European companies are, he says.
“Since 2017, Western retailers have seen their sales to Russia resume,” Henni tells Digital Commerce 360. “Market prospects have improved noticeably with the stabilization of the ruble and the emergence of new marketplaces, such as Bringly, that aim to make market entry easier to foreign players.”
While most U.S. online retailers are staying away from Russia, U.S.-based iHerb is an exception. The supplements retailer ships an estimated 700,000 parcels into Europe every month, Henni says, citing confidential sources. By contrast he says, Amazon average around 7,000 shipments to Russian online shoppers from 2014-2018, a figure that may now be nearing 10,000 packages per month, Henni says. Amazon does not operate a dedicated ecommerce site in Russia, but Russian shoppers can buy from its sites in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere.
Amazon and iHerb did not respond to requests for comment on those shipment figures. Amazon is No. 1 in the Internet Retailer 2019 Top 1000.
Russian shipping provider Shiptor estimates the average value of a parcel arriving in Russia from U.S. online retailers is $182.91, about half the $362.36 average value in 2014. The average item price is little changed, at $87.10 now versus $96.63 five years ago, but the average parcel only contains 2.1 items today versus 3.75 in 2014, Shiptor says.