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Targeting Indian small towns paves the way for mobile commerce gold

When it comes to mobile populations first, India tops the list. The country has more than 1 billion active mobile subscriptions with a huge appetite for mobile apps and interaction. In a single day in December 2021, for example, an astonishing 1.06 billion mobile subscribers were active on their phones.

Fast forward to 2022, and the Mobile State 2022 report by Data.aia market intelligence and decision-making platform for the mobile app economy, shows that app downloads in India have reached the highest levels yet.

Additionally, the report highlights an increase in the two most important metrics for marketers: time and money spent on apps. Indian consumers spent around a third of their waking hours on mobile, using their devices an average of 4 hours and 42 minutes per day in 2021. Compare that to the average daily TV viewership of around 3 hours and 17 minutes a day, and it’s clear that mobile is where the action and the audience are.

This is a sea change in consumer behavior that favors both local app companies and global players. To take advantage of this, marketers around the world need to address Indian audiences as individuals and weed out segmentation patterns and outdated stereotypes.

Rural areas are home to powerful users

One of the stereotypes marketers need to change is the view that big-city consumers are their most sophisticated, active, and engaged users. In fact, research shows that the digital divide between urban centers and small towns is rapidly closing. For the first time in 2020, India counted more internet users in rural areas than in big cities. It’s a dynamic that’s creating a burgeoning audience of digital newcomers eager to explore mobile apps and more.

This agrees with an analysis of over 300 mobile apps with an average monthly user base of over 4 million published by CleverTap, a cloud-based customer engagement and user retention platform. The in-depth insight into Indian app usage and engagement shows that vertical applications, including edutech and fintech, “attract a disproportionate number of rural users”. [Disclosure: CleverTap retains my services as an online talent, producer and content consultant.]

The study also confirmed the central role of women in the Indian economy, revealing that they lead 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 summer sales

Connect the dots in the data, and marketers would do well to seize untapped opportunities in India’s small towns and invest in approaches to adapt messaging and marketing to meet the unique needs of women.

E-commerce giant backed by SoftBank Meesho tracked this playbook to increase app downloads more than 5x in 12 months. This massive spike in popularity prompted to crown Meesho the 2022 small group shopping app. Today, the platform – which competes with Walmart-owned Flipkart, Amazon and JioMart, the e-commerce destination owned by Indian mobile operator Reliance – has more than 100 million Indians who have made purchases.

This month, Meesho took another big step by reporting a record 5.35 million orders during a one-day sale on June 6. This is an increase from one million orders the previous year. Shoppers snapped up children’s clothing, consumer electronics, and home improvement and decorating products, and sellers on the platform saw their orders increase by one average of 217%the company said in a press release.

A big part of that success is the laser’s focus on small towns, Kirti Varun Avasarala,

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

Small businesses in these regions and women-led businesses 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 says. “As we penetrate deeper into India’s underserved markets, we are poised to become the preferred e-commerce destination for the country’s next billion users.” It also puts Meesho, a quintuple unicorn valued at just under $5 billion last October, on track to an IPO in early 2023.

Customizing purchases for in-app beginners

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

Meesho is committed to advancing millions of shoppers through the mobile app learning curve. “Adopting a simple user interface into the core shopping experience is a big factor contributing to the rapid adoption of the app,” he said. “It helps new e-commerce users easily navigate the app and provides a seamless experience.”

The simple UX design is further enhanced by technology that allows less savvy shoppers to use image search to find and purchase products. Another bonus is Meesho’s own search engine technology which understands the vernacular and allows customers to search in eight of India’s 22 languages, Avasarala adds. “It’s about ensuring that every aspect of the customer experience is optimized for buyers to increase familiarity, build trust, and ultimately drive frequent interactions and transactions. “

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

Profitable through customization

Meesho currently has over 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 that should have 228 million social commerce consumers by the end of 2022 and become twice the size of the current e-commerce market within 10 years.

Those are tantalizing growth numbers, but Meesho is looking beyond increases in its customer base. It has made “significant investments” in personalization to generate loyalty revenue and retain existing customers.

The focus is on personalization and using AI to “understand consumers’ purchase intent at different stages of their buying journey,” says Avasarala. “All feeds are personalized, taking into account user preferences regarding different categories, price points and past interactions.” For users who explicitly provide their intent via search, Meesho’s algorithm ensures that they quickly get to the products they are looking for.

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

Indian market figures from and CleverTap paint a picture of a dynamic country brimming with growth opportunities. Meesho’s trajectory to profit shows that e-commerce businesses can gain a significant advantage by tapping into underserved markets in small towns. The lasting advantage belongs to brands and retailers who prioritize investments that simplify the buying journey and personalize experiences to help digital newcomers feel empowered.

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