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Internet in India: Future lies with the vernacular

By Arundhuti Dasgupta and Urvi Malvania
May 11, 2017 10:16 IST
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Not only is the number of language users set to grow faster than English users over the next five years, these users are more likely to lead a more active digital life.

Arundhuti Dasgupta & Urvi Malvania find out how brands are rethinking digital marketing plans to accommodate this.

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IMAGE: According to a study by Google and KPMG India, native language users take faster to online shopping and are more willing to rely on digital media for entertainment than English users. Image used for representational purpose only. Photograph: Shailesh Andrade/Reuters.


Over the next five years, nine out of 10 new users of the Internet from India will be language users says a study by Google and KPMG India (Indian languages: Defining India's Internet).

Not only is the number of language users set to grow faster than English users over the next five years, these users are more likely to lead a more active digital life. They take faster to online shopping and are more willing to rely on digital media for entertainment. 

The number of customers accessing online retail sites in a language other than English will grow nearly four times while those using digital payment gateways will more than triple the report says.  

No brand can thus ignore the growing voice of the native digital consumer on the Internet.

Last week, Google began offering its services in nine Indian languages with keyboard support for 11 more.

Making the announcement, Rajan Anandan, vice president, India & Southeast Asia, Google had said, "The most important aspect of making the web more useful and meaningful for all of India is to make India's internet more representative of the India we live in." 

Currently, there are 234 million language users as compared to 175 million English users on the Internet. In 2011, there were 42 million language and 68 million English users.

Not only are the many languages spoken in the country crowding out English users online, their numbers are set to grow even faster. By 2021, language users are expected to grow at 18 per cent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) to 536 million. In the same period, English-language users are likely to grow by a mere three per cent CAGR to reach 199 million.

Already a bunch of e-tailers, mobile wallets and entertainment platforms are following a multiple language policy to cater to the diverse needs and challenges of this community.

Both Amazon Prime Video and Netflix have focussed on localisation through language subtitles. The latter has also developed software called Hermes to help better and speedier subtitling of its content.

Dish TV took localisation a step further with the introduction of its second brand Zing, which focussed on regional customers beyond the metros. So, for each state the brand is present in, the packaging, both physical and for the channel, is skewed towards regional language viewers.

For example, in Kerala, the instructions and manual for the set top box are provided in Malayalam instead of only English and Hindi and the base pack for customers of the state, will feature channels in the language of the state, rather than Hindi or English entertainment and news channels.

According to the report, digital entertainment is sought out by 167 million language Internet users today and is expected to grow to 392 million users by 2021.

In the next five years, language users are expected to account for 75 per cent of India's Internet user base.

Apart from Hindi, which will account for 38 per cent of the total users on the Internet in five years, Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu will comprise 30 per cent of the total.

E-commerce players like BookMyShow, PayTM have extended the interface language to Hindi and several other languages on the web and mobile.

The number of language users accessing digital payments gateways is expected to go up from 28 per cent today to 43 per cent in 2021, thus limiting the potential of an English-only platform to 57 per cent of total Internet users. More than 75 per cent of Indian language Internet users said they preferred using mobile wallets over bank promoted websites and apps.  

The study offers interesting insights into the nature of language usage too; 68 per cent Internet users consider local language digital content to be more reliable than English.

Ninety-nine per cent of language users access the Internet through their mobile devices while the overall share of people using the mobile for Internet is 78 per cent.

For language users, online government services will see the maximum growth in usage, growing at a CAGR of 33 per cent over the next five years.

E-tailing, digital classifieds and digital payments are the second fastest category in terms of adoption. E-tailing is currently accessed by 42 million language users. It will grow to 165 million by 2021.

The category most shopped online is consumer electronics for such users, not fashion and lifestyle, groceries or home care. The report says that this could be because there is not enough product information and cataloguing in Indian languages by these brands. Almost 44 per cent of language users have said they feel challenged by product descriptions and customer reviews in English.

While awareness of e-tailing is high, language and comfort are two big roadblocks to adoption. Over 50 per cent of offline shoppers said they would try e-tailing sites and apps if provided with end-to-end language interface.

The majority count exclusivity, product range and convenience as benefits of e-tailing; 90 per cent said they do not see cash backs and discounts as key benefits. Almost 25 per cent of language users said problems at the payments stage led to drop outs.

Clearly, to gain their share of the wallet, brands will have to bring down the language barriers online.

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Arundhuti Dasgupta and Urvi Malvania Mumbai
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