India Macro and Consumption

India took the path of a socialist economy after independence in 1947. The policies tended towards protectionism, strong emphasis on import substitution, state regulated industrialisation and a dominant public sector. But India started having large fiscal deficit problems starting 1985, and by the end of 1990, it was in a state of serious economic crisis. The government was close to a default and foreign exchange reserves had reduced to the point that India could barely finance three weeks’ worth of imports. The country ran into the risk of precipitating into an era of economic crisis, unemployment, despair and civil unrest — in contrast to the hope and confidence we enjoy today of becoming a superpower by 2030.
Making a bold and uncharacteristic move, on May 21, 1991 India airlifted 60+ tons of gold to be sent to Bank of England and Union Bank of Switzerland. Govt. of India had to take a loan from IMF and as a condition had to “liberalise” the economy. This pivot etched 1991 into the cornerstone of the great Indian economic turnaround, ushering-in unprecedented economic progress. This remarkable story has been captured in several notable books. Gurcharan Das, in India Unbound, remarks, “Although slow, hesitant and incomplete, 1991 reforms set in motion a process of profound change in Indian society. It is as important a turning point as Deng’s revolution in China in 1978”.

As of 2016, India is not only the 7th largest economy in world, but it is also growing faster than its peers like China

By 2025, India is expected to surpass Germany and become the 4th largest economy. That India is the last standing beacon of hope amongst the emerging markets, found resonance at 2016 WEF Davos.


Economic growth aside, India is also set to reap what is now famously called the demographic dividend, with its working age population being larger than the population that is dependent on it. Today, India’s 65% population is below 35 years of age. With Western Europe, the US, South Korea, Japan and even China’s aging population, could this demographic dividend offer India an edge? As per IMF, it could add a significant 2% to the GDP growth rate of country.
World-class infrastructure, deeply rooted education systems, and pro-business government policies among other things that define the economic progress of Europe, North America and even the shining cities of China, are often considered lagging in the country by foreign visitors. Frequent instances of friction between governments and industries further bring forth investor’s concern on growth and capital risk. Govt.’s misguided tax fight with Vodafone in 2011 and West Bengal’s tussle with Tata’s for the Nano project are two prominent examples. On the other hand, the government never regulated the country’s IT industry, because it never fully understood its potential. As a result, that sector flourished. A book by Gurcharan Das captured this phenomenon succinctly in its title India Grows at Night.
Fortunately, the environment is changing fast, business friendly outlook and initiatives of the Modi government is set to make the India’s economy bigger and better again. Today, India can grow during the day too, while the government is wide awake.
Consumption Class is Growing Rapidly
Rapid economic growth has pulled millions of people out of poverty and created a sizable consumption class. In 2015, 66M households were part of the ‘consumption class’ with annual household income of more than $4000, which is 27% of India’s total household. This class constituted only 7% households back in 2005.
As India continues on the path of economic development, the consumption class will rise to 53% of total households in 2025, implying a mammoth 800M+individuals belonging to the consumption class. Another important point to be noted is the expansion of the affluent class (Globals) from 2.5M households in 2015 to 23M by 2025.


In India, 85% of the consumption class lives in Urban areas. Urban population the country, unlike China, is spread across a large number of cities. Only 1/3rd of the urban population lives in metropolitan (top 7) cities. Remaining 2/3rd of the urban population lives in 400+ Tier-II & beyond cities. Non metropolitan cities, consequently, will play an important role in India’s consumption story.
As Indians continue to climb the economic ladder, the composition of their spend will also change considerably. Today, a typical household in the country spends ~45% of its income on food, clothing and housing.

In fact, food and clothing account for 70% of the total retail expenditure in the country

As witnessed in developed economies, discretionary spend will take up larger share of nation’s shopping basket as national income rises. For example, food (as % household consumption) reduces from ~40% for Aspirers, to ~30% for Seekers, to <10% for Globals. As one grows richer, a higher chunk of income is spent on looking and living better.
Intertwined with the rise of purchasing power in the society and increased aspirations of the consumer class, has been the rise of Internet in India. Formally first launched for the public in 1995, Internet penetration in India has reached a quarter of the country’s population. In the early 2000s, Internet was limited to households with computers or neighbourhoods with cyber-cafes. With advent of mobiles, in particular smartphones, India’s means of consumption, communication and living is being fundamentally altered.

Smartphone and Mobile Data Revolution

Smartphone and telecom advertisements follow distinct narratives in India these days. A 70 year old is using Google maps to locate “must see” places on his vacation in Goa. A restaurant waiter is learning English by watching YouTube videos in his free time. A 60 year old nervous mother visiting airport for the first time is being guided by her son via video chat. An illiterate family taking pride in the progress made by their child in education through online interactive tools. These narratives are not very far from the reality in India today.
Smartphone is probably the biggest platform shift in recent times. Globally 2B+ people are carrying smartphones in their pockets and are spending 1.5–2 hours on it daily. This shift brings limitless disruption possibilities. Riding on this shift, large consumer companies have been built globally — Uber, Spotify and Airbnb to name a few.
India is a key participant in the global smartphone wave with the 2nd largest base of smartphone users. In fact, India became one of the largest user base for some of the global internet giants like Facebook, Whatsapp and Youtube in 2016. But long before global internet giants entered India, one of the first major global technology company to enter the country was Seimens in 1922. Followed by IBM in 1977. But till the liberalization, there were very few multi-nationals that took India seriously. Today, CEOs of most of the major multinational companies regularly visit India, indicative of India’s market potential.


Declining smartphone prices and affordable prepaid plans along with nominal charges for limited data usage has been a key driver for rapid penetration of smartphones in countries like India. While Apple reimagined the smartphones in a way nobody could have thought, Android changed the economics of smartphones by making their OS open source.
When erstwhile Rajiv Gandhi brought the PC to India in 1980s, it heralded a new era with the great hope of changing lives of Indians. But PC penetration was mostly limited to large corporates. Even today less than 5% of consumers and SMEs own PCs due to the high cost of ownership. With 300M users, smartphone has become the personal computing device of choice across income classes and age demographics.

Average smartphone price in India declined by 35% from $200 in 2013 to $130 in 2016. At the forefront of driving price disruption are Chinese companies who commanded 35% share of smartphone shipments in Q1CY2017. Indian smartphone makers like Micromax, Intex and Lava held the fort for a while, but recent entry of Chinese phone makers has eroded their market share significantly. Within 2 years of India entry, Xiaomi has already become 2nd largest smartphone brand by shipments.

While smartphone holds great promise, its true potential can be harnessed only if combined with high speed (3G/4G) data connectivity. Despite having 300M smartphone users, India has only 120M 3G/4G subscribers. One of the key inhibitors has been the cost of data, which is at $3 per GB per month. $3 is fairly high, considering the ARPU (average revenue per user) in India is $2. The launch of Jio is already changing the game. Jio’s 4G data tariff costs $5 for 30GB data and voice is free. In the first 6 months of launch Jio acquired 100M subscribers, rapidly taking the market share away from incumbents. This is forcing other telecom operators to reduce the cost of data and voice.
In most developed markets, telecom operators get more revenue from data than voice. In India telecom players get 50% of revenue from voice and 20% from data. But in the next 3–4 years this balance will reverse and data will become a major contributor to the topline. It is estimated that 500M subscribers will consume average 10GB data per month as compared to 120M subscribers consuming average 1GB data per month in 2016.

Increased data usage coupled with increasing subscriber base, will lead to 40x increase in total data consumption by 2020

The 4x increase in 3G/4G connected smartphone users and 40x increase in data consumption will open up massive opportunities for consumer internet companies.


Depending on the sector — e-commerce, digital media or financial services — companies will still be required to solve India specific challenges. But a strong foundation is being laid through rapid smartphone and 3G/4G mobile data penetration for internet economy to thrive.

See also  Is Technology-Led Entrepreneurship The Key To Domination?

E-tail: Current State and Way Forward

India presents a curious case when it comes to retail. At $630B in size, India is among the top 10 retail markets in the world. However, this huge market is still largely unorganised with modern retail commanding a rather small market share of 10%. With 14M retail outlets, India has one of the highest number of outlets per person (11 per thousand).
It’s been a decade since India embarked on the journey of organised retail, but it has not yet been able to make its mark beyond the metropolitan cities. The sector had been stifled by archaic FDI policies till recently. Despite being one of the largest sector in the country, only in 2006 India began to open up retail for FDI. Even then, it allowed up to 51% ownership only in single brand retail. China in contrast has allowed 100% FDI in both single brand retail and multi-brand retail.
In 2011, the next phase of reforms took place allowing 100% FDI in single brand retail and 51% in multi-brand retail. But these reforms were accompanied by a few complicated conditions. Eg: Single brand retailer should source 30 percent of its goods from India. All multi-brand and single brand stores in India must confine their operations to 53-odd cities with a population over one million. Multi-brand retailers must have a minimum investment of US$100 million with at least half of the amount invested in backend infrastructure.

In Tier-II and beyond, ~94% of retail sales still happens through unorganised retail shops

Modern retail’s under penetration is driven by poor economics, lack of adequate affordable rental space and capex requirements to scale.

Today, E-tail is ~2.5% of the retail market. In China and US, E-tail is 13% and 8% of their retail markets respectively. The excitement for entrepreneurs is palpable, given the large opportunity that exists to deepen the roots of e-tail in India.
Internet holds the promise to fundamentally change the way consumer aspirations and service needs are addressed. Foundation has been laid in form of rapid expansion of digital infrastructure across our cities and villages. Expectedly, digital infrastructure has made significant inroads into Tier-II & beyond towns at a rate much faster than its physical counterpart.
E-tail, a $15B market in 2016, was almost non-existent in 2012. From 2012 to 2015, it went through a rapid market creation phase — growing at more than 100% YoY.

In 2016, sales top 3 E-tail players combined has already surpassed the sales of top 3 offline retailers.
But it is still a nascent and concentrated market where

70% of sales comes from top 7 metro cities and 65% of sales comes from a single category — Electronics

As E-tail market enters the next phase of growth, following needs to happen

  • Expand shopper base beyond metro
  • Increase online share of non-electronics retail spend
See also  Cost and Value is an important requirement for logistic sector

Shopper Base Expansion
Tier-I constitutes only 10% of India’s population and 20% of retail sales. For E-tail to expand the shopper base, it needs to go beyond Tier-I cities. In China, Tier-III & IV cities contribute to 50% of E-tail sales. In fact, it is believed that E-tail generated 40% new consumption spend in Tier-III and IV cities in China, as those part of the country never had access to such a large assortment of products before.
As E-tailers embark on the journey of getting to the next 200M shoppers, there are a few nuances that makes these next 200M shoppers different from 60M early adopters.
English is not a dominant language
India has only 125M people who can read/write/speak English. As one goes beyond Tier-I, the non-english speaking population will form a sizable share of target consumer class. It is also believed that more than 90% of India’s new internet users will be Non-English speaking.


Most e-tailers don’t have a strong regional language offering. These users may occasionally buy a thing or two online when available at discounts. But to drive a behavioural change and gain sizable share of their wallet, it is important that users are engaged with E-tail platforms in the language of their choice. These users would find it difficult to comprehend product descriptions and user reviews written in English.
Unfortunately, it is not a simple translation problem. The language most people speak on daily basis is very different from the pure form of language that most translation engines are trained on (see the example below)

Most Hindi speaking people will not understand the product description as translated by Google translator above. Adding to the challenge, E-tailers also have little control over the content. Product content is uploaded by sellers and reviews by users.
For E-tail to expand beyond the large cities, E-tailers need to make concerted efforts towards serving the regional language users.
App retention is challenging
Affordable smartphone (sub $100) segment has 50% share of total smartphone shipments in India. These affordable smartphones typically have 8GB memory. Large share of next set of online shoppers will be users of these affordable smartphones.
8GB capacity in today’s era is like using a computer with 512MB RAM. With Android OS footprint getting bigger and increased usage of high definition media, typically 85% of 8GB capacity is occupied by OS, Whatsapp and Media.

With 1.3GB memory left for third party apps, 8GB phone users have only 6–8 third party apps on the phone

This is a huge challenge for any internet company. Average 90 days uninstall rate for these 8GB phones is 80%. Until a frequent usage behaviour is established, app retention will be incredibly difficult.

While it is good to have an app strategy, it can not be the only strategy. Having responsive and engaging mobile web interface is going to be critical. Various other approaches are being taken, including chat commerce and single app interface for multiple apps, to solve the app retention problem.
Category Adoption Beyond Electronics
India E-tail today probably looks like any other E-tail market in its nascent days, where standardized product category like electronics has a significant share of the market.
As market evolves, other categories will witness growth in online adoption. Although various categories will go through their own natural adoption curve, E-tailers have opportunity to play a role in accelerating the pace of adoption through technology and value delivery innovations.

For example, online grocery player Yihaodian in China has set-up 1000 AR enabled stores in parking lots, parks and in front of famous landmarks. It helped the company take advantage of high footfall at these places for customer acquisition, while still continuing to be a pure online player.

Driving higher online adoption of non-electronics is not only important for the growth of E-tail market but also critical for favourable economics. Electronics is a low margin and discount driven category. First time shoppers probably will start with buying electronics online. It is then important that E-tailers are able to retain those consumers, build loyalty and get higher share of their wallet spend. In developed E-tail markets like US and China, electronics has only 16–17% share.
Foundation has been laid in the form of digital infrastructure. E-tailers’ ability to innovate to serve the next 200M shoppers and drive higher online adoption of non-electronics categories will be the key to the growth of E-tail market.
Our Learnings
Having significant investment into the e-tail sector, we’ve got our own set of experiences and learnings. Following are a few key learnings:

  • For high involvement categories such as Furniture, Fashion and Jewlery, having offline presence will be necessary to build brand and trust among consumers.
  • Except electronics and fashion, all other categories are still in market creation phase with <2% online penetration. Market leaders will be required to make significant investments to drive large scale change in consumer behavior.
  • Mobile will drive majority of E-tail sales. Optimising mobile experience (especially mobile web) for each customer touch point including navigation, search & filter, product page and payments will be critical to drive conversion. Conversion rates for Indian e-tail player are abysmally low, improving product experience will be key part of the strategy to drive higher conversion and lower acquisition cost.
  • Even within established online categories such as Electronics and Fashion, new models will emerge to cater to different consumer segments and needs — Rentals, Internet first brands, Offline to online, Social and Content commerce, Luxury goods among others.
  • Cost of customer acquisition is high for most segments fuelled by hyper competition. Building loyalty and driving high customer lifetime value will be important for sustainable growth. Relentless focus on customer experience and KPIs such as NPS and Repeats will be important operational metrics to track for companies and investors. Amazon prime is a great example of customer stickiness and loyalty building.
  • CoD was an important innovation to fuel the growth of e-tail, 60% of e-tail sales happen through CoD. But it is also believed to be one of the key reason for high return rates. For most e-tailers return rates are in range of 15–25%. With UPI, Aadhar and Bharat QR share of of digital payments need to increase. It will be critical to bring down cost of managing cash, reverse logistics and excess inventory.
See also  Porsche Unveils Cayman GT4 Clubsport Rallye Concept, Might Turn into a Production Model

We continue to be bullish on the sector, and believe it holds strong long term potential.

Digital Payments

India has traditionally been a cash heavy economy. Cash to GDP ratio is one of the highest at 12% and this has been a huge burden on the economy. Cash has given rise to a shadow economy, which is estimated to be ~30% of GDP. Foregone tax on shadow economy is ~3% of GDP and cost of managing cash is 1.7%.

Cash is costing India almost as much as the country’s fiscal deficit

When it comes to adopting a dominant mode of digital payments, we have seen examples of countries taking different paths. Debit/Credit Card is the dominant digital payment method in the US with almost 100% card penetration. However, mobile wallets dominate in China due to low card penetration. In 2016 China mobile payments volume stood at $3.2T as compared to $212B in the US.
Riding on the dominant payment method, large tech companies were created. In the US, it was Stripe riding on card penetration, while in China it is Alipay and Wechat pay driving 90% of mobile payments volume.
India is still nascent for any form of digital payment. While debit card penetration is high, number of average POS transactions per debit card per month stands low at 0.3–0.4. And 85% of debit card transactions in value terms are ATM withdrawals. One of the key reasons for such low debit card POS usage has been low POS penetration.


While India has ~14M retail outlets, there are only 2.5M POS terminals. India has one of the lowest POS per 1000 debit cards ratio at 2.8. The ratio is 13 in US, 14 in China, 33 in Australia and 15 in Brazil. According to RBI estimates, India needs 10x more POS terminals to sufficiently serve the current card user base.
In Nov 2016, Indian government took a game changing policy decision of scrapping 86% of India’s currency to curb shadow economy and drive aggressive digitisation of payments. A large uptick in both forms of digital payments — cards and mobile wallets — is visible due to demonetisation. Both modes of digital payments — cards and mobile wallets — will continue to witness growth due to very low digital payment penetration.


But something else happened in 2016–17 which will play a pivotal role in defining which way will India go when it comes to the dominant mode of digital payments. The answer is probably going to be neither cards nor mobile wallets. It may be a government led mobile payment system based on Aadhar + UPI (Unified Payment Interface) + Bharat QR + BHIM (Bharat Interface for Money).
The progress made by government in the direction of making it a default payment system has been unprecedented:

  • 1B Aadhar cards have been issued in 5 years.
  • 250M Bank accounts were opened under Jan Dhan Yojna in the last 3 years. This is 50% of the total 500M bank accounts in India.
  • BHIM (UPI based mobile payment app) was launched 7 weeks from announcement of demonetisation. The app has had 18M downloads within 3 months of launch.
  • Launched Bharat QR as a standard QR code for merchant payment acceptance. Target to get 10M merchants to accept UPI payments through Bharat QR in 12 months.

Having launched six months back, UPI is driving transactions worth ~$340M per month. In value terms UPI payments have already reached 30% of mobile wallet transactions and 3% of card transactions. Although 80% of current UPI payments are P2P payments, once Bharat QR is rolled out, merchant payments are expected to form the significant volume of UPI transactions.
Although these are nascent days of UPI transactions, it will not be surprising if UPI surpasses cards and become dominant mode of digital payments in the next 18–24 months. 2016–17 will probably go down in history as the year that changed India’s payment landscape forever.
The story of India’s internet is yet in its first chapter. Nonetheless, it has been played out in the press like a reality show with drastic changes in fortunes chronicled, breathless speculation on winners and losers, investors alternately cast as matures or morons. In our opinion, the chapter to begin ahead will witness real companies that build sustainable business models and merit making us proud as has been the case with Amazon in the US and Ali in China. The opportunity has attracted the imagination of entrepreneurs and investors both domestically and globally. The market is so important that global internet players are entering with the motto of winning it any cost. Indian players will continue to face fierce competition from global counterparts with advantage of global learnings and access to large pools of capital. To fight out the battle, Indian entrepreneurs will require access to large sources of growth capital and management talent pool capable of steering the companies to their zeniths. We at Kalaari are big believers that India shall witness the success stories of internet companies solving large problems for Indians by Indian entrepreneurs in a uniquely Indian way. Whether for entrepreneurs or investors, the opportunity will be fiercely competitive – the throne is constantly evolving!

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this:

Adblock Detected

Please consider supporting us by disabling your ad blocker