Enabling Bharat by easing digital interactions is a key ingredient to bringing India online.
By Ankur Pahwa
India has over 450 million active internet users, largely driven by tier-2 and tier-3 cities (Bharat). This segment witnessed 35% growth in 2018, and will continue to be the growth engine in India’s digital journey. While new users are getting accustomed to the internet, they are struggling due to challenges such as language of interaction, comfort with UI/UX, lack of material “how-to” assistance, and lack of a physical face to the virtual world; all of these have an impact on the “trust” factor of the ecosystem. Consider this, over 90% of users active online still don’t prefer to transact online, and therein lies the challenge.
A difference between developed e-commerce markets such as China or the US and India is that while the former are a single large market, India is 10-15 different markets with varying preferences, so the challenges faced in getting online are unique, which require first-principle approach to address. Bharat constitutes about 13% of e-commerce shipments, expected to touch 40% in the next year or two, with a market size of over $15 billion. Here are some ways in which companies can better engage consumers:
Local language content: It is estimated that 695 million people will interact with their devices in local language of choice by 2025. It’s an opportunity for start-ups and companies to explore multilingual interface. An example is the recent festive season, where e-commerce giants witnessed 50%-plus growth in sales from Bharat, with a key enabler being Hindi language interface. Another example is a news aggregator app that expects to touch 300 million monthly active user (MAU) base—a jump of 3.6x in two years—because it has an interface in 14 languages. Companies also need to provide for multilingual call centres. A human interface in the digital world is important.
A study has estimated that, by 2021, India will have nearly three times as many people accessing the internet in local languages as those who use English online. This, in itself, makes a compelling case for companies to explore adoption of multilingual interface.
Voice and visual search: Voice search has become mainstream in Hindi and vernacular languages, with the leading search engine recording 270% year-on-year growth in voice searches. Given the complexity in typing on vernacular language keyboards, voice is anticipated to be the preferred interface for the next set of users. Voice is the next touch.
As more companies invest in digital assistants and with the growth in language-AI start-ups, optimising e-commerce ecosystem for speech queries will be more significant. While the current appeal lies with younger audiences, it can act as a bridge for customers who would be more comfortable with conversation rather than text. This interface can make online shopping easier and more personalised.
Visual search is the new window shopping. It helps discover new content that users may be unfamiliar with or find hard to describe. In a world where attention span is limited, visual search can play a key role in engaging the imagination of the customer. Optimising this tool for search provides targeted results and translates to better usability; helps customers filter their search beyond tags/keywords; eliminates roadblocks that may occur if the customer is not satisfied; and a carefully implemented and visual search programme can show results for a similar colour, style or size preference to keep customers satisfied. This also helps upsell products to customers. A picture is definitely worth a thousand words.
Enabling Bharat by easing digital interactions is a key ingredient to bringing India online. Whilst there are inherent challenges given the diversity of people, education, language, preferences that are unique to India, start-ups are stepping up and providing equally unique solutions. We are witnessing the power of numbers that Bharat brings, and by all estimates it is sticking to script, but there is some way to go to truly unlock the power of Bharat.
The author is partner & national leader, E-Commerce & Consumer Internet, EY India. Views are personal