Aizel Trudel, one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the Russian retail sector and the founder of the online marketplace aizel.ru, has long recognised the potential of the Internet as a retail venue and is convinced that e-commerce has a strong future. Lenta.Ru spoke to Aizel about affordable fashion, underrated Russian designers and the expected decline of offline shopping.
‘The Internet Is the Future of Retail’
Our retail business is 15 years old. In 2011, we set up an online store, from which a marketplace boutique branched out three years later. The marketplace provides online retail space where any Russian or international supplier that meets our quality requirements can sell their products. This business format ensures improved brand recognition and provides exposure nationwide. We are launching an English version of the website on Oct. 26 to reach out to our fast-growing international customer base.
At present, aizel.ru is the only online retail project in Russia that does not depend on foreign investment. The website sells its own Aizel brand and it is home to an online marketplace that is shared by 65 Russian companies. We are currently negotiating with the manufacturers of traditional floral Pavlovsky Posad shawls and Khokhloma-printed garments, which will be made available on our online boutique in early 2017.
In 2016, we have so far shipped almost 9,000 items by Russian designers to over 6,000 destinations across Russia and the CIS. Having a clientele across such a vast area is appealing to potential sellers who can get access to the national and, possibly, global market instead of being limited to just three or four local venues.
The Internet is the future of retail – of this I am positive. I started my career in traditional retail; we have physical shops too, but e-shopping has the advantage of being a fantastic time-saver. Customer comfort is our top priority. If the shopper wishes to pay in cash, we will send a courier with a portable POS terminal. We are sticklers about the “customer is always right” principle and we carefully monitor our customers’ behaviour on the website, always keeping our hand on the pulse.
‘We Give a Lot of Support to Young Designers’
Our company was among the first to bring European designers to Russia 15 years ago when many of them were absent from the Russian market. Gucci and Christian Louboutin have selected our website to present their collections to Russian customers – we see this as a sign of trust. Of course, walking into a boutique and having a salesperson put your shoes on for you and bring you cups of coffee or a glass of champagne is a satisfying experience. Today, however, as time is becoming more valuable than ever, an increasingly large number of customers, especially in the younger age bracket, are choosing online shopping. Why waste your time looking for something that can be delivered to your doorstep?
In the next few years, we are planning to significantly expand the selection of fashion labels offered by our online marketplace – so any reliable Russian companies with a sufficiently broad product range are welcome to join. Normally, we require a minimum of 30 to 40 or, ideally, 60 products – it wouldn’t make sense to sell just three or four pieces.
The whole process is simple and straightforward. First, the supplier has to contact us with an offer and provide details about the product line, possibly with photos. After considering the offer and running the necessary checks, our staff contacts the supplier and analyses the collection. Photos of each product with descriptions in Russian and English will then be displayed on the website. Our highly skilled and dedicated team of stylists provides the photography. Generally, the collection appears online approximately a month after initial contact.
We give a lot of support to young designers through online and offline marketing, via social media and any other channels we have developed over the years. We don’t simply put the goods online – we try to make them recognisable and popular. Another important part of our mission is to publicise Russian designers in the international market.
There are plenty of talented Russian artists: it’s just that they are relatively unknown. To boost demand for their work, we need to showcase local designers in the best possible way. As of yet, domestic fashion brands such the highly popular Sorry I’m Not, Alexander Terekhov and KATYA DOBRYAKOVA account for just 25% of our sales, but we intend to help this share grow. We also make numerous capsule collections especially for our website.
One particularly effective brand promotion instrument we use is our online magazine with its strong team of stylists and art directors. On June 12 (Russia’s Independence Day), we conducted our first-ever photo shoot in the Kremlin featuring the work of Russian designers, and the results were amazing. We also sometimes do free shoots for glossy magazines and promote them through our own channels.
We have been able to expand our range of children’s fashion by partnering with a number of Russian boutiques, among them Daniel and Kenguru; negotiations are ongoing with Nezhny Vozrast and Detsky Mir. Naturally, contributions from any other Russian companies operating in this sector are welcome. Stylish doesn’t mean unaffordable. Our website offers goods in a wide price range – from $50 to $1,000. However, regardless of the price tag, we guarantee excellent quality and the authenticity of all products, as we take our responsibility towards our customers very seriously. Punctuality is another important concern, especially for Russian designers. Russian garment workers meet the strictest international quality standards; I have seen many European factories employing Russian seamstresses. I am confident that the Russian clothing industry has a great future.
Interview by Aleksey Zimin