Will m-Commerce lead the way for e-Commerce in India?

As of now, India has 10 % population penetration in internet usage. This is in stark contrast to the global average of 35%, and much below the average of the developed world at 78%. Though the population base is big enough for a thriving e-commerce industry, India’s e-commerce potential at the moment is limited by a number of factors:

  • Infrastructure system – India still is a cash driven economy with very low availability of the credit systems. This is a bottleneck for many of the consumers willing to purchase goods online, and is the primary reason for India’s unique jugaad of payment via Cash on Delivery. However, many large players are wary of such a system that is manpower intensive, and requires time to collect the cash from the consumer’s doorstep.
  • Slow internet speed – India still has less than 5% broadband penetration among its internet users, compared to 30% globally. The slow net speed results in several payment gateways rejecting transactions because of the time lag in connecting to the server and getting confirmation. This results in poor user experience and discourages further attempts at shopping online.
  • Poor logistics infrastructure – For most of the e-commerce companies selling merchandise, the delivery of the good to the end mile is still critical. This requires excellent logistics and transportation infrastructure which has been a glaring concern in India.

To address such concerns, the government recently launched the ambitious National Broadband Plan with an outlay of USD 12 billion, which aims to bring 160 million households under broadband connection by 2016. This would take broadband penetration to that of the developed countries, opening up significant opportunities in sectors like education, business, entertainment and e-governance. However, it is feared that if we miss out on the intervening years, the Internet revolution could just bypass India.

This opens up an excellent platform for the private sector to contribute by pitching in and leveraging the strong telecom infrastructure already in place. With more than 67 million smartphones in the country and a ubiquitous 3G connectivity, high-speed mobile internet penetration far outpaces the broadband penetration. Though high speed fiber network is still important for organizations and institutions, mobile internet speed is sufficient for individual consumers – the main segment of customers in e-commerce.

Just as mobile telephony overtook the Indian wired telephone network thus revolutionizing voice-communication and sms, jugaad innovations in m-commerce are paving the way for a similar transformation in e-commerce. Mobile payments such as Airtel money and mobile to mobile transfer can circumvent the need for a credit card payment which has been so far unavailable to the mass public. Mobile e-commerce or m-commerce can really help capture the Fortune at the bottom of the pyramid. Already 45 % of the online users in India access so using only their mobile and contribute close to 3% of the e-commerce revenues. M-commerce is well established and trusted for small payments such as downloading ringtone and music. This suggests some trust is already established in the virtual mobile payment system.

Critics of m-commerce point to the small screen size of the handsets and suggest it would fail to gain momentum. However this argument fails to stand ground. Myntra is a leading online fashion portal and earlier had only 4% of its revenue coming in from mobile. However, they realized the advantage m-commerce offered in capturing the demand of Tier 2 cities and small town India, and after they redesigned their website to suit mobile screens they witnessed explosive growth in revenues generated from mobile purchases – they were able to garner 20% of their revenue from m-commerce last year. Additionally, 70 % of Indian e-commerce is for travel bookings and classifieds, which can be easily transferred to a small screen. The travel bus ticketing giant RedBus, attributes their success to presence in the mobile segment via apps that consumers quoted were its differentiating factors offering ease and convenience.

The m-commerce also offers other benefits such as geo-contextual shopping experience which is unmatched by any other media. Zomato and Justdial have shown leaps and bounds in their growth since they launched apps that use a consumer’s GPS position for better targeting of services.

To sum up, m-commerce is ready to take India’s e-commerce success to new heights. However it needs government and public support. The government should offer significant incentives such as promotion of FDI in e-commerce and telecom. High pricing of the 3G spectrum, and the failure to share 3G spectrum across competitors will only hamper India’s e-commerce growth story, and is bad for the consumer. Nonetheless, with year-on-year growth of 57%, m-commerce stares ahead for an exciting run.


Satvik Dudeja is a PGP1 student at IIM Ahmedabad, and a member of the Consult Club.