By Edward Chenard: Author, Speaker and thought leader in big data and personalization
I just returned from a trip to Russia where I spent just over a week in Moscow and St. Petersburg. This was my first trip to Russia and it was an educational experience. It is always good, in my opinion, to get out of one’s comfort zone and learn how others do things. My experience in Russia helped me to see how others are using technology to conduct ecommerce.
Consumers Are Innovating Not Companies:
The first thing I noticed is that in Russia, the consumer is the driver in a lot of ways. You can forget about advanced big data or personalization, it wasn’t happening. There was still a sense of the old mentality of make money and focus only on that. You paid for everything! You could walk around town and still find places that will charge you to use the toilet. That’s because a sense of making customers happy is still not there for a lot of places.
As a result of the lack of focus on consumers, the consumers are doing the work to satisfy themselves. Many have smartphones and use them to get what they want to augment the experience. In fact I noticed that people really didn’t expect much out of merchants. I remember one of my experiences where a guy was too busy to answer my questions. I was the only one in the store and I used my phone to look up the price and make a decision that his prices were too expensive. If he had engaged me, his odds of making the sale would have been better. This lack of service means the relationship between the consumer and the company is a poor one at best. The consumers treat the merchants as commodities. However, when I did get great service, it was noticed by the Russians and they commented on the great service and wanted it as well. So there is clearly an appetite for it.
People certainly have PC’s and laptops but the use of mobile was much stronger than in the US. Tablets and smartphones were everywhere. In fact the craze for man purses in Russia I think is fueled mainly by men wanting to bring their tablets with them wherever they go and needed a case that isn’t too big to carry the tablets around. Also, free wifi is everywhere in Russia, so it makes it easy for people to jump on their mobile device and start shopping. I for one had no trouble finding wifi to connect to.
Another reason for mobile first is the traffic. Many people use public transportation to get around. Unlike in many cities in Europe and the US, getting around was a task. In St Petersburg, I was in a hotel outside the city center. I had to walk a good 15-20 to get to the bus stop. Now imagine it is January, do you really want to walk in that? I wouldn’t. Where as here in the US, I have easy access to home. In Russia, the mobile device becomes the primary device because of that lack of easy access to go home. If you have to take three subway trains to get home, it becomes a task. I was told that Russians will leave home for a long time because it is a hassle to go home and do short trips. And for those with a car, parking was not easy. I often found people getting towed or parking on the side walk. So this means that the mobile device becomes the primary tool for most Russians in these two cities.
Lack of Engagement
Most sites in Russia lack any real engagement for customers. Thus there wasn’t any real need for big data or personalization. However, that’s mainly a disconnect between the business and its consumers. I went to two high end malls in Moscow, Gum and Tsum, the kind of places where you spend $500+ on a scarf. I would expect a rich web experience to go along with them but no. Gum didn’t even have wifi. Such a waste of an opportunity. If someone is willing to spend that kind of money on a scarf, give them a rich experience both online and offline.
Overall, I think Russia is a great opportunity for companies that want to have a rich web presence and engaging experience for customers. The consumers want it and the tools are already all in place. Give the people what they want. Because most companies are not giving the consumers what they want, any company in Russia that does, will enjoy great market acceptance.