Skip to content
Subscriber Only
Businessweek
Technology

Russia’s Answer to Amazon Looks West After Beating Local Rivals

Wildberries is the country’s dominant web store, and now the billionaire founder is targeting western Europe.

Tatyana Bakalchuk, chief executive officer of Wildberries, the largest Russian online retailer, at her office in Moscow on Feb. 16.

Tatyana Bakalchuk, chief executive officer of Wildberries, the largest Russian online retailer, at her office in Moscow on Feb. 16.

Photographer: Elena Chernyshova/Bloomberg

Winston Churchill, it’s often said, quipped that you should never let a good crisis go to waste. Tatyana Bakalchuk would agree. The founder of Russian online retailer Wildberries has weathered three economic crises since she started the company in 2004—and each has left her business stronger, helping make it the country’s biggest web store. “Thank God for crises,” Bakalchuk says. “We realized we can operate differently.”

In the financial meltdown of 2008, she snapped up excess inventories from global fashion brands and sold them to the Russian women who make up the bulk of her clientele. When the ruble plunged in 2014, Wildberries signed up more local producers and created a marketplace where it takes a cut of sales and charges sellers for warehousing and distribution—vastly increasing the assortment of goods on the site. And with shoppers turning to web retailers in the coronavirus pandemic, her sales almost doubled in 2020, to 437 billion rubles ($5.9 billion), forcing her to hasten a plan to outsource logistics. “Last year gave us a big boost and pushed us in a direction we were planning to head eventually,” Bakalchuk says. “But we had to sprint to get there.”