We are used to hearing that English is the language of business. As the global economy evolves and buyers and sellers reach each other across national borders and continents, they need to be able to communicate in a common language.
However, in my opinion, the language of commerce is your native tongue. It is the language in which traders and their customers talk. To prove my point, take a look around you. Whether it is a housewife haggling with the local bhajiwallah for a better price. Youngsters browsing the latest clothes and exchanging opinions about fashion. The villager who has gone to the local market to buy a mobile phone. We are all used to a purchase process that largely happens in the native language.
That should not come as a surprise, in a country where only 12% of the population is fluent in English. What comes as a surprise is that we have treated eCommerce as an industry targeted only towards the urban English speaking elite. Purchasing power and the need for goods and products lie in small towns, in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, and it is on the back of this demand, that online sales are growing. The consumers in these cities are often mobile-first users, with access to internet through these devices rather than PCs. Already retailer Myntra reports that it gets 60% of sales and 90% of traffic from mobile, and a large part of it from small towns.
mCommerce (or any kind of commerce) is about more than just pressing a ‘buy’ button. Research by Bain and Company in China revealed that the customer passes through three broad stages in an online consumer journey that is enabled by digital capability – discovery and research, decide and transact and finally, review and advocate. A large number of consumers are going back online after a purchase to share their experiences. Therefore, Bain predicts that the most successful retailers and brands will be those who engage with consumers at all three stages – coming back to the need to talk to consumers, in their own mother tongue.
If we see the small town, mobile-first customers as our future business then we have to build an mCommerce model based on both cultural and linguistic understanding of the mass customer base. Let me illustrate with an example. The Chinese have a Lunar New Year tradition of gifting red envelopes filled with money to family and friends. Chinese internet giant Tencent Holdings tapped into this business opportunity by allowing users of its WeChat app to send ‘virtual’ red envelopes which would be deposited into their mobile money accounts. The promotion was a big hit with WeChat’s 400 million users, with 40 million red envelopes totalling 400 million Yuan exchanged in the period. The coup was that, in just a few days, millions of new users signed up for WeChat’s payment service and linked their bank accounts.(Source : Forbes Magazine). Alibaba completely missed the opportunity that Tencent was quick to capitalise on.
Ultimately, mCommerce or eCommerce becomes a growth engine of the economy when it allows the farmer, the small town trader, the SME to access a platform where they can sell their goods and services to the world. Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma expressed this vision powerfully “Let the rural people return to the earth, let the intellectuals return to the farms, and send the products of their agriculture all over the nation. Then there will truly be a culture of consumption and spending”
It is a worthy ideal to work towards – and to make it happen, the language of commerce cannot continue to be English alone. We have to do business in every Indian language, to truly grow the eCommerce space in India.
Phani Bhushan is the founder of Anant Computing. Anant Computing helps companies to create native apps in every Indian language, that run on any feature phone or smartphone. Team Anant firmly believes that true digital inclusion will happen if every citizen of our country has the power of internet and computing at their finger tips. Our vision when we designed Anant was a more digitally inclusive India, where everyone with a mobile phone can both create and access high quality apps ,sans language barriers.