I was prompted to reflect on this topic after I got a job-call from a company whose headquarters are in Beijing, China. They wanted to expand their business in Hindi and wanted a native speaker to work for the Hindi version of their ecommerce website. Obviously, I was a good candidate for them given that I had content writing, translation and online marketing experience. Though we could not settle out on payment terms yet the whole process made me think about this topic: Is there a potential of regional language ecommerce sites in India?
Well, my mind suggested both the answers–yes and no. Yes because India is a multi-lingual country and there is a huge potential of consumers who would like to buy in their regional language; no because Internet users are mostly English-savvy and they prefer English over regional language when it comes to make monetary transactions.
At a juncture where you can’t make up your mind, it is better to research. So, I did some digging and found out some relevant material from where I thought I would be able to give some comments.
In a research study conducted by Forrester in collaboration with ASSOCHAM, the following was observed:
In our research, we did not come across a single major site in a language other than English. While it is a safe bet that online buyers in India will predominantly be English speakers in the short term, global businesses often overestimate the number of consumers in India who speak and understand English fluently. Global media sites have already taken notice of India’s diverse online population: Yahoo, for example, provides news in Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam, Marathi, and Tamil; MSN also offers a multilingual site. eBusiness leaders should consider multilingual websites as a potential long-term option for differentiating their offerings and appealing to consumers who may understand English but prefer a local language.
At present, there are not too many ecommerce sites that offer regional language support. In fact, if you ask regular consumers who buy from online stores, they first give you a negative reaction about the possibility of buying from a regional language site. It seems, they have a credit value associated with the usage of English language. It could turn out to be a long and heated debate if we start discussing why Indians prefer English over regional languages. Right from the start of internet and computer technology, English language has ruled the minds of Indians.
In almost all other countries, ecommerce sites would preferentially be in their respective regional languages, but this is not the case in India–English presently rules the ecommerce eco-system.
A lot of foreign players think that if they have to enter the Indian market, they will need an ecommerce site supported in regional languages and if not more, at least Hindi would be needed. This is a wrong notion as the current consumer-base prefer to buy from English sites.
In fact, the daily usage of regional languages is heavily ridden with English words, and young generation often find it hard to relate to the words that are uttered in regional languages. They have to be given an English equal to convey the meaning.
What type of market is available
While competing with leading ecommerce players in India already operating in English language would be a difficult task, tapping the remaining market could be a good idea. While metropolitan cities are driving majority of ecommerce business, there is a forecast growth in the market of tier-2 and tier-3 cities. To attract more consumers from such cities and to make the business model more creditable, ecommerce sites have focused on various types of facilities like COD (cash on delivery), 30-days replacement guarantee, etc.
Ecommerce site-owners know that if they want to attract consumers who like to buy from physical stores, they need to give them more advantages, various types of discount schemes, robust customer-care system and near-to-perfect delivery model. A lot of cities are not easily connected through courier services, but to tap the consumers in these cities, ecommerce sites have to strengthen their delivery network. A lot of them are already brooding over starting their in-house logistic facilities.
At the same time, prompted by research studies and various reports, major players of the internet are trying to tap users who prefer their regional language. So, the idea would not be to compete with already existing players but to tap the untapped market of users who prefer local vernaculars and regional languages.
*A report by the Internet and Mobile Association of India
It’s clear from the above diagram that there is a huge increase in consumers who like to buy online. So, there is definitely a potential of regional language ecommerce websites to make business.
I would like to quote something from an article that came into fore while I was searching about this topic:
To fill the pulse, our Tamil channel – Oneindia Tamil conducted a survey which shows that most of the Tamilians are ready welcome e-commerce in Tamil. While 4,219 (40%) people conveyed positive response towards the idea of bringing e-commerce in Tamil, only 1,817 (17%) people showed their reliance in English. However, 1,600 (15%) Tamilians still want to wait for the time when ecommerce will be launched in Tamil. So, what about other regional languages? Will Bengalis, Marathis, Malayalis or Gujaratis be ready to experience the new extraordinary concept? Please share your opinions and thoughts with OneIndia.
Without doubt, there remains an untapped potential in India about regional language ecommerce sites. However, at present, there is not much faith among the consumers given that there is no major player in the market who support regional languages in their business.
Barriers to regional language ecommerce
When it comes to language, I get very active in my mind. I have often noticed lots of wrong-translated incidents around me.
One of major problems that any ecommerce site in India will face is the correct translation. India is a country where there are around 20 official languages and none of them offer standardized translation of modern day words that include computer technology, mobile technology and various terms that are formed almost daily on the internet. Hindi itself is not standardized when it comes to using the words. A lot of words come from English, Arabic, Turkish, Persian and even many European languages. However, there would be a agreed acceptance of some words and terms if somebody wants to provide an ecommerce site in Hindi or any regional language.
The second barrier is the correct translation. Indian languages have different syntax than English and therefore can’t be translated using online tools. Human translation is also not done by experts and there are often many errors in the spellings of the words. If you watch Indian movies, you will find too many spelling mistakes in regional languages. Similarly, if you move in bigger cities, you will find mistakes in sign-boards. Similar is the case with the translation done for websites. Recently, there were some news about an ecommerce site launched in Hindi. If you open this website, you will notice a spelling mistake right at the home page and banner of the website: http://www.hindi.ezeego1.com/
In fact, they have made a hilarious mistake. The message that they want to convey is ‘India’s largest online travel bazaar‘, but their present message almost sounds like ‘India’s largest trouble bazaar‘. Though the sound in the word ‘trouble’ is of ‘v’ but still it is definitely not ‘travel’.
Ecommerce sites need to make sure that they get proper translation done before they launch the websites in regional languages. I would suggest that academicians should be involved while getting the content translated instead of freelancers who claim to possess strong language expertise.
If you randomly ask from your friends who are regular users of various kinds of ecommerce sites, you would get an answer that they don’t need regional language sites to sell stuff to them–they are pretty comfortable in English. However, there exists a huge consumer-base who wants to be served all types of dishes in their regional languages. So, I would conclude by saying that potential is there, right kind of strategy, robust business model, proper marketing, almost perfect customer care and seemless deliver network would give you huge market-share in India.