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Online shoppers embrace Ukraine and shun vodka in the wake of Russian invasion

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As Russia’s attack on Ukraine grinds on, the sympathies of consumers worldwide appear to be reflected in their online purchases. Sales of Ukrainian-themed items are spiking, while online purchases of vodka, whether made in Russia or not, are cratering, according to Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse data.

The war has also disrupted ecommerce in both countries with online sales falling precipitously in the face of the collapse of the Russian ruble, Ukrainian citizens fighting for their lives and ongoing Russian disruptions of Ukraine’s digital infrastructure.

Online sales destined for consumers in Russia ended February down 53% compared to the first of the month, according to Signifyd’s data. Ecommerce began to tumble as the invasion began. On Feb. 24, the day Putin announced the assault, ecommerce sales in Russia were up 7% compared to Feb.1. The next day, they dropped to 43% below the first of the month — and then continued their descent.

What you need to know
  • Ecommerce sales in Ukraine and Russia reflect the economic upheaval caused by Russia’s attack on its neighbor. Online commerce in the countries has plummeted since Feb. 1
  • Orders for Ukrainian-related goods — t-shirts, flags, collectibles — have skyrocketed since Vladimir Putin announced that Russia would invade Ukraine.
  • Online vodka sales skidded dramatically in February, likely to protest Russia’s aggression, although not all vodka is produced in Russia.

Meanwhile, the war’s upending of Ukraine’s economy and digital infrastructure was also reflected in online commerce in the besieged country. Online sales in Ukraine had been generally falling since the first of February, but they dropped dramatically beginning Feb. 22, when the certainty of the coming invasion was undeniable. 

Ukrainian ecommerce sales plummeted 96% after the invasion

When Putin announced the Russian attack two days later, online sales headed for Ukrainian consumers were 80% below their level on Feb. 1. By Sunday, they were down 96% compared to the beginning of the month. 

Chart showing the ups and downs of ecommerce sales in Ukraine following the invasion

Fluctuation of February ecommerce sales in Ukraine

While shopping trends driven by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine seem relatively inconsequential given the bloodshed and death of war, the changes in behavior do demonstrate support for the people of Ukraine. 

The beleaguered country’s supporters have found different ways to express solidarity and sympathy — protests, prayers, donations, social posts and the purchase of Ukrainian-themed items, such as flags, t-shirts, traditional clothing and wooden dolls.

Global online sales of products with Ukraine in their names began a steady rise on Thursday, the day Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the assault on Ukraine, and ground and air attacks began. Sales of Ukrainian goods rose 85 percentage points on the day of Putin’s announcement, according to Signifyd’s Ecommerce Pulse data. 

Consumers pushed sales of Ukrainian-related products up 338%

By Friday, with images of buildings destroyed by Russian rockets and Ukrainian families fleeing cities and huddled in subway stations, sales of Ukrainian items soared to 338% higher than their Feb. 1 levels, Signifyd data shows. And by the weekend, stated delivery times for Ukrainian flags on major marketplaces had stretched to weeks, rather than days.

The war is clearly having an effect on consumers and merchants inside and outside of Ukraine and Russia. Some merchants have pledged to donate proceeds from the sale of Ukraine-related items to the Red Cross or other organizations supporting the Ukrainian people, the Daily Mail reported. The news outlet quoted a description written by one Ukrainian Etsy seller who recently added to a digital print to her typical selection of watches and jewelry. The print depicted a Ukrainian girl holding the country’s flag. 

Sending physical goods had become impractical and so the seller was attempting to keep her business going by selling digital goods. 

“We are limited in the ability to earn and send parcels,” The Daily Mail quoted the listing as saying. “If you want to support us, please buy this listing. Thank you for your kind heart!”

There is no shortage of pro-Ukraine products online

A review of eBay turned up dozens of pro-Ukrainian T-shirts pledging that the wearer stood with Ukraine or supported Ukraine or was praying for Ukraine. Others called for stopping the war and still others took aim at Putin, thinly veiling a profane insult hurled his way. 

While consumers have embraced Ukrainian-related products, they have also turned their backs on items associated with Russia. Online vodka sales, for instance, are down markedly, Signifyd’s data shows. Boycotts and actions by state-owned liquor stores in the U.S. to remove vodka from their shelves have been widely reported. Bar owners and others have very publicly poured out bottles of vodka in protest, including brands that are not made in Russia

The reaction among online shoppers has been similar. Ecommerce sales of vodka were down 13% in February compared to January, according to Signifyd data. Certain brands saw much more severe losses — and as with the other boycotts, the national origin of the particular vodka brand was not necessarily the deciding factor. 

Consumers turn their backs on vodka — Russian or not

A vodka’s roots can be a murky subject. Vodka-makers that once spun their stories to sound as Russian as possible are now working in the opposite direction. 

Consider Stolichnaya, known by millions of fans as “Stoli.” Its website now opens with a message of support for Ukraine and clearly states that its vodka is made in Latvia. Nonetheless, its online sales were down by as much as 86%, according to Signifyd data, depending on the specific variety in question. 

Sales of two popular varieties of Smirnoff — a Russian-sounding vodka produced in Illinois — were down 74% in February, Signifyd data shows.

None of which is to say that authentic Russian vodka has escaped consumers’ scorn. Sales of Russian Standard, a brand led by Russian oligarch Roustam Tariko, were off 74% in February and Beluga Transatlantic skidded 60% — both on relatively small volume. 

Signifyd Data Analyst Phelim Killough contributed to this report

Photo by Getty Images

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected].