The Russian cross-border sales market, which is expected to reach or exceed $3 billion this year, has been the object of two recent studies.

The first report, conducted by the Higher School of Economics (HSE) this past summer, analyzes the effects of cross-border sales on the Russian retail market. The research was ordered by the Association of Internet Commerce Companies (AKIT) and the Association of Trading Companies and Manufacturers of Electronic and Computer equipment (RATEK).

Based on price monitoring of 52 domestic and foreign online stores and Yandex.Market, the marketplace of Russia’s search giant Yandex, a survey of over 300 shoppers in foreign and domestic online stores, interviews with industry experts and shoppers and data from the Russian Post, this study focused on two of the most popular e-commerce segments, electronics and clothing and footwear.

The second report, published by GfK and Yandex.Market, explores various aspects of the Russian e-commerce scene, including cross-border sales. It is based on an online poll conducted in September among 2,400 online shoppers between the ages of 20 and 55 who live in Russian cities with a population of 100,000 inhabitants or more. These shoppers make online purchases at least two times a year and have made at least one purchase in GfK’s list of 13 major product categories in the past twelve months.

Foreign sites not always cheaper

Are more attractive prices behind the recent boom in cross-border sales? Many survey respondents do cite prices differences as a reason for preferring foreign online stores (see below).

However, HSE’s research showed that foreign Internet stores do not always have a price advantage over Russian ones because of the large range of prices offered by different stores. In the electronics segment, foreign online stores, especially in China and Germany, offer more favorable prices for cameras, but have no clear price advantage for smartphones. Russian online stores show a wide range of prices for clothing and footwear and foreign stores are located within this price range.

Russian consumers to tend to make higher ticket value purchases in domestic e-stores. The average order value for online purchases of both clothing and electronics are lower for purchases made in foreign online stores, as asserted by HSE.

Cross-border sales - AOV

Finally, Russian Post data showed that the average order value for 45% of customers does not exceed €100 euros and for 41% is between €100 and €500.

More than a third of Russian e-shoppers make purchases on foreign sites

Russian shoppers who make purchases in foreign online stores are a diverse and growing group. GfK found that 36% of Russian online shoppers have already made purchase at foreign Internet stores.

HSE data shows that younger individuals tend to shop more often in foreign online stores, whereas education level does not significantly impact cross-border shopping. Participants surveyed by HSE generally also started buying in foreign online stores one year after beginning to make purchases with Russian online stores (37% of electronics shoppers and 56% of clothing and footwear shoppers).

GfK asserted that women and individuals with low incomes are more likely to make purchases from Chinese e-retailers, while men over 40, who usually have a higher income, are more likely to make purchases from e-retailers in other foreign countries. The audience buyers in Chinese and non-Chinese online stores slightly overlaps.

HSE found that Russian shoppers prefer to purchase the same types of goods in both domestic and foreign e-stores, while GfK asserted that cross-border purchases were most often in the clothing segment. For example, 12% of respondents had made at least one purchase of clothing from Chinese e-stores and 11 % from English-language ones.

HSE survey respondents favored Russian and foreign online stores for the following reasons.

Cross-border sales - Shoppers motivations

Delivery challenges

The rapid growth of cross-border sales in the past years has created major challenges for the Russian Post and Russian Customs Service, which often become problems for online shoppers awaiting packages.

This high level of cross-border sales means increasing volumes of incoming international mail. The number of international parcels received by the Russian Post increased from 24.2 million in 2011 to 30.5 million in 2012. EMS, the Russian Post’s express delivery service, meanwhile received 1.5 million international parcels in 2011 and 1.9 million in 2012. This fast growth in international parcels means frequent slowdowns at customs checkpoints, as illustrated by the congestion of Moscow’s airports this past spring.

Customers of both domestic and international e-stores are impacted by delivery challenges, but shoppers surveyed by HSE reported more problems with delivery from foreign online stores. For example, 59.9% of surveyed clothing shoppers had faced delivery problems with foreign online stores versus 44.7% for Russian e-stores.

However, to cope with the issue, the Russian Post is building new capacities, including a giant customs checkpoint and logistic center in Moscow launched last month. In addition, alternative operators – including DHL, FedEx and UPS as well as Russian providers BoxberryCDEK, DM Forwarding, Maxipost and SPSR, to name just a few – offer express delivery services at more and more competitive prices.

Russia currently has the world’s highest duty-free import threshold for individuals at €1,000. This threshold could be lowered to €150 as soon as next year, stated Russia’s finance minister earlier this week.

  • East-West Digital News will soon release a research study on cross-border sales in association with E-commercefacts.com and the E-Commerce Europe Association. To take part in this research, please click hereTo receive a free executive summary, please mail us to report@ewdn.com.