E-Commerce in Russia: Accessing the Russian Market via the Internet
Recent changes in Russian policy, such as its recent ascension to the WTO, have led to the promise of the further opening of its markets – entering into serious dialogues with foreign companies and establishing conditions for business cooperation in Russia.  The opening of its doors, so to speak, has led to a proliferation of companies seeking to do business in Russia. E-commerce, in particular, has recently begun to boom due to growing access to the Internet as well as the relatively small investment needed to enter new e-commerce markets.
With a population of over 140 million people, Russia presents a large, relatively untapped market although high tariffs and unfavorable trading conditions made it a risky place for foreign investments. With a growing middle class and increasing Internet penetration, many large companies are recognizing the importance of the Russian market and are making efforts to break into this new territory. The number of Internet users in Russia is growing 150% annually, and it is estimated that Russians will spent 26 billion U.S. dollars online in 2012. This makes it one of the world’s fastest growing Internet markets. However, less than 5% of Russians speak English, making language one of the largest barriers to doing business in Russia whether online or on the ground.
In order to be more accessible to the Russian market, many companies have launched Russian versions of their websites and products, with more being added every year. Recent additions include: Twitter, which launched its service in Russian in April 2011; Groupon, which entered the Russian market in August 2010; eBay, which launched a Russian interface for its popular online auction site in March 2010; and the NHL (National Hockey League) which launched a Russian language website at the start of the 2011-2012 season. Localized and translated content has helped these, and many other, businesses access the Russian-speaking markets. This is important because 72.4 percent of consumers worldwide say they would be more likely to buy a product with information in their own language, 56.2 percent say that the ability to obtain information in their own language is more important than price, and 72.1 percent spend most or all of their time on sites in their own language.
Localization is the process of adapting existing materials to a local language and culture. These materials can be websites, marketing materials, software, or even the product itself. Companies doing business internationally known that as products and services cross borders, a translation is needed. But language is only one barrier that hinders e-commerce. Cultural differences, such as the symbolic meanings of colors or differing connotations associated with words, can also mean that without professional help, a company may be sending a message quite different from that which it means to convey.
There are many examples where a company has failed to consider the impact a translation will have in the local culture, Facebook being a prime example. Facebook, rather than hiring a professional translator to create the Russian interface for its website, decided to use “crowdsourcing” as a cheap alternative. However, crowdsourced translations are not high quality products as there is no control over who does the translations – novices or otherwise. The result is an interface that is inconsistent and riddled with errors – for example, professionals have been quick to point out when the volunteers have blundered translations on Facebook. There are many grammatical errors where gender is inconsistent or the wrong case is used. There are also a number of places where individual words remain untranslated (see table below for specific errors). For this reason, the Russian-owned equivalent VKontakte.com continues to have a significant advantage over Facebook among Russian users.
Essentially, with a company’s reputation on the line, it is best to hire a professional translation agency, such as Language Connections, with experience in localization to produce a high quality equivalent that respects the local market’s linguistic and cultural expectations. Language Connections has helped many companies build an international client base, including Tekscan, a high tech company in South Boston, among others. A good localization can make the difference between success and failure, so choose wisely.
- “Russia’s WTO entry offers a world of opportunity”
- “Why Russia, Why Now?”
- Data from Russian Chamber of Commerce
- Data from a study by Google Russia and CitiBank
- 2002 Russian Census Figures
- Data from Common Sense Advisory