Targeting India's Smaller Cities Paves The Way To Mobile Commerce Gold – Forbes

When it comes to mobile-first populations, India leads the list. The country counts more than 1 billion active mobile subscriptions with a massive appetite for mobile apps and interaction. On a single day in December 2021, for example, an astounding 1.06 billion mobile subscribers were active on their phones.

Fast forward to 2022, and the State of Mobile 2022 report by, a market intelligence and decision-making platform for the mobile app economy, shows app downloads in India hit the highest levels yet.

What’s more, the report highlights an uplift in the two metrics that matter most to marketers: time and money spent on apps. Indian consumers spent roughly one-third of their waking hours on mobile, using their devices for an average of 4 hours and 42 minutes per day in 2021. Compare that to the average daily television viewership of around 3 hours and 17 minutes per day, and it’s clear mobile is where the action—and the audience—is.

It’s a seismic shift in consumer behavior that favors both homegrown app companies and global players. To cash in, marketers everywhere must address Indian audiences as individuals and retire outdated segmentation models and stereotypes.

Rural areas are home to power users

One stereotype marketers need to change is the view that consumers in major cities are their most sophisticated, active and engaged users. In fact, research shows that the digital divide between urban centers and smaller cities is closing fast. For the first time in 2020, India counted more Internet users in rural areas than in major cities. It’s a dynamic that creates a burgeoning audience of digital newcomers eager to explore mobile apps and more.

This dovetails with an analysis of over 300 mobile apps with an average monthly user base of more than 4 million published by CleverTap, a cloud-based customer engagement and user retention platform. The detailed snapshot of Indian app usage and engagement shows that app verticals, including edutech and fintech, “attract a disproportionately large number of rural users.” [Disclosure: CleverTap retains my services as an online talent, producer and content consultant.]

The study also confirmed the pivotal role of women in the Indian economy, revealing that they drive more than 70% of purchasing decisions. More than half of e-commerce app users in CleverTap’s mobile usage study are women.

Meesho’s record-breaking summer sale

Connect the dots in the data, and marketers would do well to address untapped opportunities in India’s smaller cities and invest in approaches to tailor messaging and marketing to meet the unique needs of women.

SoftBank-backed e-commerce giant Meesho followed that playbook to grow app downloads more than 5x in 12 months. This massive spike in popularity prompted to crown Meesho the breakout shopping app of 2022. Today the platform—which competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon and JioMart, the e-commerce destination owned by Indian mobile operator Reliance— counts more than 100 million Indians who have made purchases.

This month Meesho marked another milestone, reporting a record 5.35 million orders in a one-day sale event on June 6. That’s up from one million orders the previous year. Shoppers snapped up kidswear, consumer electronics and home improvement and decor products, and sellers on the platform saw orders increase by an average of 217%, the company stated in a press release.

A big part of this success is the laser focus on smaller cities, Kirti Varun Avasarala,

Meesho Chief Product Officer, told me in an interview. “Meesho is the e-commerce destination of choice for the value-conscious consumer segment of India. These consumers are typically based in Tier 2 cities and towns with low-mid income levels.” Today, 80% of demand for the company’s 44 million active product listings comes from Tier 2 cities, including Bhilal, Guntur, Hubli, Kollam, Meerut and Port Blair.

Small businesses in these regions and women-led companies make up the majority of sellers on the platform. It’s all part of the company’s vision to democratize e-commerce for everyone, Avasarala explains. “As we go deeper into India’s underserved markets, we are on track to become the preferred e-commerce destination for the next billion users in the country.” It also puts Meesho, a five-time unicorn valued at just under $5 billion last October, on the course for an IPO in early 2023.

Customizing shopping for app newbies

Tapping into India’s underserved markets is the strategy Meesho has followed to fuel impressive growth. But scaling the business and winning value-conscious consumers requires more than abundant choice and attractive prices. “More than 50% of all new consumers we acquire are new to e-commerce itself,” Avasarala explains.

Meesho is committed to moving millions of shoppers up the mobile app learning curve. “Adopting a simple user interface in the core shopping experience is a big factor contributing to the app’s rapid adoption,” he says. “It helps first-time e-commerce users navigate the app easily and provides a seamless experience.”

Simple UX design is further enhanced by technology that allows less-tech savvy shoppers to use image search to find and buy products. Another bonus is Meesho’s own search engine technology that understands vernacular and allows customers to search in eight of India’s 22 languages, Avasarala adds. “It’s about making sure every aspect of the customer experience is optimized for shoppers to increase familiarity, build trust and, ultimately, drive frequent interaction and transaction.”

Finally, Meesho has tapped open-source libraries and other tech stacks to provide a rich app experience even on older versions of Android OS and low-end smartphones. Coming in at just 14.5 MB, compared to Flipkart’s 18 MB and Amazon’s 55 MB, Meesho stands out as the lightest e-commerce app on the Google Play Store. “This enables us to serve value-conscious consumers who have limited storage on their low-end smartphones and often face unstable internet connectivity in remote geographies,” Avasarala says.

Profitable through personalization

Meesho currently counts more than 120 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) on its platform, a number the company aims to increase through investments in social and gamification features. It’s a smart move in a market expected to have 228 million social commerce consumers by the end of 2022 and grow to be twice the size of the current e-commerce market within 10 years.

Those are mouth-watering growth numbers, but Meesho is looking beyond increases to its customer base. It has made “significant investments” in personalization to build revenue through retention and keep existing customers coming back.

A big focus is personalization and leveraging AI to “understand the buying intent of consumers at different stages of their shopping journey,” Avasarala explains. “All feeds are personalized, taking into account users’ preferences towards different categories, price points and past interactions.” For users who explicitly provide their intent through search, Meesho’s algorithm ensures they quickly get to the products they are looking for.

“We have significantly invested in AI and machine-learning algorithms to bring cutting-edge technology and power personalization on our app,” he adds. Meesho also works with CleverTap and announced a collaboration with Google Cloud to gain faster insights with data, predict future outcomes and create dynamic experiences.

The Indian market numbers from and CleverTap paint a picture of a vibrant country brimming with growth opportunities. Meesho’s path to profits shows e-commerce companies can gain a significant edge by tapping underserved markets in smaller cities. Lasting advantage belongs to the brands and retailers that prioritize investments that simplify the shopping journey and personalize experiences to help digital newcomers feel empowered.

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