The idea of a one-click approach

There’s more to online shopping than booking holidays or bidding for eBay bargains – and Moscow’s consumers are steadily waking up to the idea of a one-click approach to the weekly shop. And expats, perhaps tongue-tied in their local produkty, are leading the trend according to Utkonos, one of the leading online supermarkets.

While the idea of selling food online is still a new one here, it’s a growing market and one which hopes to offer good service and quality produce to clear the aisles of the city’s supermarkets.

Experts say the whole Russian online goods market is constantly growing, and won’t reach saturation point for several years. According to the latest Google-CitiBank research, by the end of this year 600 billion roubles will be spent online by Russians.

That figure is set to increase by a third come 2012 and while groceries are not top of the shopping list their potential should not be underestimated.

The shoppers’ view

“It still feels a little bit weird when I can’t choose, for example fruit pieces or vegetables myself,” said Tatyana, 29, who regularly buys food for her family at an online shop. “But with most things it’s totally fine. I quite enjoy buying wine, milk products and other things sold in packages.”

Tatyana lives in a remote area of Moscow, and although there are plenty of supermarkets, she prefers buying most things online. “It saves so much time! No queuing, no wasting time to look for the things I need, and everything delivered to my doorstep,” she said.

Waiting at home

Customers can arrange when to have their purchases delivered, give or take a reasonable margin for error. Sedmoi Kontinent offers two-hour time slots within which the client has to be at home and waiting. Utkonos specifies the morning, 9.00am – 1.00pm and thereafter in three-hour slots.

Capital trend

Muscovites make up more than half of all Russia’s online purchases, and more and more of them prefer grocery shopping online.

Utkonos, Moscow’s biggest online supermarket, has seen its sales grow by 40 per cent over the first nine months of 2010 with over 200,000 active clients.

And Moscow-based expats, frustrated by the struggles of shopping in a foreign language, make up a big chunk of the clientele.

“They possibly feel uncomfortable around the capital’s supermarkets staff” said Sergei Bezzubtsev, the PR director with Utkonos, adding that mothers with young children and working people were also big fans of letting the computer do the work.

Bulky items tend to be popular. “We are one of Moscow’s leading companies in drinking water turnover,” Bezzubtsev said. “Potatoes and sugar are quite popular too.”

From high street to cyberspace

Online business becomes essential for offline supermarkets to maintain customers’ loyalty and compete with each other.

Sedmoi Kontinent was the first offline chain to launch an online department, back in 2005. “We were looking for a new service we could offer to our clients,” said Vlada Baranova, spokeswoman with Sedmoi Kontinent. “And in our case it’s customers' loyalty that affects sales figures, rather than the development of internet technologies in general.”

Standard marketing stunts don’t work when groceries are sold online, but for offline chains it means they have to find a new way of persuading their clients to buy from them.

“It’s much harder to make your customer buy some curd rather than a hoover with a click,” Baranova said. “But this kind of shopping will obviously become more and more popular and the growth of our sales is proportional to the efforts we make to improve our service.”

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