India eCommerce Country Guide

A guide that can help you improve your cross-border strategy

Overview of India

India is a country full of contradictions. On one hand, it might be very familiar indeed: there’s a pretty good chance that your website is at least partly built by Indian software developers, some of whom you know personally. On the other hand, suggest ‘India’ in a meeting, and you’ll hear words such as ‘exotic’ or ‘bizarre’ amongst the first responses from your audience. This Passport is a guide to picking your way through the contradictions of India, and of Indian ecommerce, to enable you to decide if it’s a country worth targeting, and if so, how to do it.

It starts with the basics. On the one hand, India has 1.25 billion people. On the other hand, not all of them can read, of those that can, not all can read English, and of those proficient in English, not all are likely to be able to afford your products. The practical reality is that there’s a target market roughly the same size as Germany with roughly the same wealth as Poland, with ecommerce growing attractively, but probably not explosively, strongly by about +20% per year and expected to continue to do so for a long time to come, and with growth in sales of international brands growing well ahead of this average.

It explains the key challenge. On the one hand, the Indian IT industry probably builds many of the world’s biggest websites. On the other hand, unlike pretty much any other country in the world, India is taking active steps to prevent e-Commerce from outcompeting the millions of small shops that employ 8% of the country’s workforce… and voters.

The result is ever-changing regulatory restrictions that continue to prevent India from seeing the spectacular growth in ecommerce experienced in some other emerging markets, and exert a critical influence on your choice of potential routes to market. However an important side effect of these same changes is that the big marketplaces – Flipkart and its fashioncentric subsidiaries Myntra and Jabong, Snapdeal, and - which currently dominate Indian ecommerce are becoming much hungrier for, and therefore more accommodating to, the needs of your brand. The marketplaces route into India is worth much more serious consideration than you might normally give it for most countries… they aren’t (yet) Alibaba but the direction of travel is becoming clear.

It describes what Indian shoppers are looking for and how to speak to them. Think your current trading calendar is complicated, with Black Friday, Xmas & Boxing Day, Back-to-School and a few others? You ain’t seen nothing yet. Indians shop at festivals and for family events, and there are an awful lot of festivals, varying by region, celebrated by extended families spread across the country.

And lastly of course, you’ll need to navigate India’s labyrinthine bureaucracy, and rather variable infrastructure, to actually get your goods to your customers. The key issues, such as consumer and data protection law, payments, choice of parcel-delivery channels, are discussed. So are its peculiar-sounding import customs and duties tariffs: anyone for CEX… or maybe you’d prefer CESS?

In summary, India isn’t an easy target. It is, however, a very interesting one: there are plenty of target customers in several rapidly growing demographic segments; they are hungry for western goods and brands; and both local and international competition is relatively weak; there is steady and continuous growth in ecommerce supported by ambitious long term forecasts; English is the language of commerce; the general internet landscape is the familiar one of Facebook and Google; there is a real opportunity to quickly gain first-mover advantage in your segment for your brand.

India is indeed a country full of contradictions. But it’s also a country full of customers.


For more information, visit the links below:

India's demographics

India's retail landscape

Connectivity and internet usage in India

Marketing in India

India's legal framework

Payment methods in India

Logistics in India

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