It’s interesting to look into some of the challenges food retailers are facing in this field of ‘innovation’. Take, for example, e-commerce. Food retailers struggle most with boosting the fresh category because people want to be in control of having fresh products. This feeling of control can be related to Soviet times when they could not choose themselves as there was a high scarcity of commodities. Not only the freshness of fruits and vegetables makes e-commerce challenging, but Russian consumers also have a different view on expiry dates of perishables. A product with an expiry date of half a year will not be put in the basket by a Russian consumer as it should last for at least one year.
Also, in physical stores, there's this implication in consumer experiences. Supermarkets are finding ways to optimize the offline experience in stores, for example, by staffed food corners where consumers can get their cheese or meat freshly cut and prepared. Where for most consumers outside Russia, this service feels like a luxury, for some Russians this reminds them of the times when they could not pick it themselves and consequently they prefer self-service.
Price tags not corresponding with the original price is another crucial hurdle in consumer experiences. Again, this relates to the feeling of not being in control but also to the trustworthiness of the store. Every consumer will be frustrated or disappointed when they find out at the check-out that the price was not accurate, but in Russia, this feeling carries a different flavour than most other countries.
Another aspect that needs attention in the Russian market is nostalgia. Although nostalgia is an essential theme for food retailers worldwide, especially since COVID-19, we should carefully translate this concept to the Russian market. Nostalgia is related to memories that makes one feel safe and well. However, it shouldn’t remind them of memories during communism. This might sound obvious, but how do you know whether it does if you didn't ask people? When we were working on a new range of pans to offer in our loyalty programmes, we found during home visit-research that the look and features of a particular type of pan triggered this memory. During Soviet times, the less prosperous had no choice but used what was available. As for pans, often stainless-steel pans of the lowest quality.
Whereas in other countries, the same items recalled good memories, like the stew their mother used to prepare in similar pans. In Russia, it certainly was not the best option to offer. But as every country has its history, it’s important to understand its context.