Part 1 of 2, Social Media and webshopping trends in Russia

Russia was for long somewhat behind Western Europe and North America what comes to the availability and use of web services and even general accessability to Internet. Still today many of the far eastern parts of Russia are lacking stable Internet connection and thus the country has suffered from slow web business culture development compared to the western world. But this has changed – fast!

In bigger cities, especially in St. Petersburg and Moscow, people are using web and Social Media in particular more than the average western Joe. The time spent in the web and in social networks is even higher than in the western neighbour Finland that’s long been one of the leading countries what comes to the time spent online. Actually the Russians spend most time online in the world – 6,6 hours per day, when the average is 3,7 hours.

The leading websites in Russia are mostly local versions of popular online services known in other parts of the world, providing webmails, search functionalities, and of course social networking possibilities all in Russian. Of the top 10 most popular websites in Russia only Google, YouTube, Wikipedia and LiveJournal are also well known and frequently used in the western world. Of the top websites many are clearly Social Media.

The top 12 most popular websites in Russia:

  1. Yandex – the local Google-clone, a search engine
  2. vKontakte – the local Facebook with over 101 million users
  3. – the local Hotmail/GMail
  6. YouTube
  7. LiveJournal
  8. Wikipedia
  9. – the local Classmates
  10. Rambler – the local Yahoo + webnews + price comparison aggregator
  11. =, another entry point to vKontakte
  12. Facebook

The western social media companies have for long struggled to find audience in the Russian speaking countries, and many have more or less given up already. The local clones of similar western services attract users much more, as the site structures and general usability, advertising, etc. have been well taken care of and localized to suit local needs. Facebook and Twitter are still in the game and slowly gaining popularity, but as the usage in general is very different in Russia (and in many other Eastern European countries), it is extremely hard to become popular there. One needs to know exactly how the local users use web services – and much more – one needs to understand the culture, the infrastructure, and the ethics as well, and that’s where most western companies go wrong.

One good example of this is the webshopping culture (or the lack of it) and it’s extreme localities. If you don’t know what you’re doing in Russia, find a local partner. Actually, find one anyway. If we think about the webshopping trends and the barriers of entry, there’s one major point that stands out loud and clear. The postal service. Russians don’t tend to use webshops, as they don’t trust to get the item they ordered. Period. The postal system is so poor that no one trusts it, and thus there’s a good amount of courier services and similar hugely popular in Russia. The government has promised to make a total extreme makeover for the postal systems, but that still takes a long, long time to be fully working and trustworthy. And meanwhile one has to find other ways to handle the logistics to get things delivered.

Another problem for a western webshop is the payment terms. The Russians are used to paying upon delivery, in cash. Credit cards are gaining popularity extremely fast, but people still want to pay upon delivery to the courier. And how does a small foreign (western) webshop handle the collecting of money? It doesn’t! So you need a local partner, a well known courier /transport company, and the money then needs to be paid to your account somehow. Not very simple is it? Did you know this? Stay tuned, more will follow in the next article, the second part of Social Media and webshopping in Russia.