Aishwarya Ramesh

Building e-commerce in languages for the next billion Indians

What is the potential of the growing Indian Internet market for social commerce when accessed in different languages? A panel discusses.

The next billion Indians coming online hold enormous potential for e-commerce platforms, but the question is – whether we are equipped to serve them in the language that they understand, and in a user interface that is intuitive and easy to operate on.

The COVID pandemic has definitely accelerated the adoption of e-commerce and given the consumers a level of comfort with e-retail platforms. The challenge is building these platforms for the next billion users, who are going to come online. This was the topic of a panel discussion at Flipkart Connect 2021.

The panel included Sapna Chadha, senior marketing director, Google India; Sandeep Bhushan, director and head of global marketing solutions at Facebook, India; and Jeyandran V, chief product and technology officer, Flipkart.

Jeyandran began by mentioning that thanks to COVID, e-retail was growing at a 25 per cent rate, with a penetration level of five per cent. “This is an encouraging sign of what adoption will be like in the next few years.”

He added that the new users were mostly from Tier-II and III cities, and it was an encouraging sign.

Chadha of Google India agreed that India is a fast growing market – especially for voice-led technology.

“We have observed a 270 per cent increase in users utilising voice to interact with apps in their own languages. We have also found that almost 82 per cent of smartphone users are using voice technology on their devices.”

Sapna Chadha
Sapna Chadha

She went on to explain that voice technology isn’t limited to using virtual assistants, like Siri, Ok Google or Alexa. It also extends to audio social apps, like Clubhouse, as well as podcasting and radio technology.

“Seventy per cent of users prefer using the Internet in their own languages. This factor is important for the monetisation of content. For brands to be successful, it’s important that they build products for local (Indian) languages.”

Chadha added that brands and companies need to think of their products from a user’s point of view. “It needs to be easy to use and accessible. That’s where voice comes in – it helps people use their devices more effectively. It’s also important that we make it easy for the users to switch between two languages because most of the time, the usage doesn’t happen exclusively in one language.”

Bhushan of Facebook, India gave the audience insights on the kind of information that people seek out on social platforms in different languages – especially related to the COVID vaccine. He went on to talk about the potential that social media commerce holds in India.

Sandeep Bhushan
Sandeep Bhushan

“Seven out of 10 people access their smartphones when they want to decide to buy something. About 90 per cent of the users on Instagram follow businesses and business accounts. There are 200 million businesses globally on Instagram.”

Bhushan added that it’s platforms like Facebook that help in product discovery – thanks to the platform’s ability to access demographic data. “The main barrier to bringing new users online is trust. It is not about whether a company is good or bad, trust comes with the understanding of what the company does.”

Google’s Chadha agreed that while the Indian Internet is rife with opportunities, it comes with its own fair share of challenges. “When we build products for other parts of the world – we have to design them differently when it comes to India.”

She explained that accessing apps in different languages is more complex than a single language app – typing in Indic languages is also more complex. It’s important to make the app accessible to solve these challenges.

“Our main target is to simplify users’ journey on the app. We have to think about use cases, such as vaccine booking. We have to understand how to make information available and accessible. The developer ecosystem is the third largest in the world, so, it’s possible,” Chadha concluded.

(Hero Image by Bruno Kelzer on Unsplash)

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