NET.COLUMNS: 10 Net Trends – Impact of the Internet on Indian Consumers

India is on the threshold of an Internet revolution. Users in India
are expected to rise 10-fold in the next 2 years. The Internet will
unleash significant forces which are bound to impact communications,
information exchange and commerce. In this article, we examine ten
trends which will impact Indian consumers. The next article will deal
with trends affecting Indian business.

1. Only eMail

I tried to get my doctor-sister to use the Net for looking up medical
sites a year ago. I failed. Three months ago, two of her friends went
abroad and sent her their email addresses. Today, she has her own
Hotmail ID, and writes email
regularly, and even looks up Medical sites in
Yahoo. The same was the case with my
aunt when her son went abroad. For many families, email has become the
way to stay in touch with family and friends elsewhere in the
world. Free email services like Hotmail have made it easy for anyone
to get their own email account. Email allows for quick and
near-zero-cost communications, anytime and from anywhere.

2. Internet Telephony

The impact of Net telephony will be real. While email is
one-dimensional and asynchronous, net telephony can bring about all
the interactivity of a telephone call, at an unbelievable price. The
impact for consumers — and telcos — in countries like India with
high telecom costs will be significant. As bandwidth and technology
improve, voice will be carried on data networks, and not
vice-versa. Internet Telephony will bridge distances globally at costs
which are almost local.

3. Prime Time on the Web

During the second match of the recent India-Pakistan one-day series, I
happened to visit a few of our clients in Mumbai. All of them had
connected to KHEL.COM to get the
latest cricket scores. There is no TV at the workplace, and radios are
too old-fashioned. The Computer-on-the-Net is the only
information delivery vehicle during business hours — for breaking
news, live stock quotes and cricket scores. Real-time information
apart, the Web is the biggest library of information and solutions. We
routinely source information from
Dejanews (a searchable database of
newsgroup content). The pace of information flow has become faster as
distance (and geography) have become irrelevant.

4. Missing Agents

Disintermediation is a big word. Its impact will be even bigger. As
wired consumers start interacting directly with organisations,
intermediaries need to look at new ways to generate business. In the
US, only non-techies pay full price for airline tickets now, as deals
abound on the web. You need to know where to look. The travel agent or
the stock broker will no longer your interface to travel and trading;
the company’s enterprise systems will be. Look at
Elbee: you can go in and directly
track your package without going through an operator.

5. Reverse Markets

We as consumers are now better informed than ever before. On
Dhan, one page compares the interest
rates of many banks. On
Samachar, all the newspaper
headlines are sprawled in front of you: pick the one you like and give
it the page view! Unlike the seller having the power of the
information, you as a consumer now have it. Looking for a house? Send
out an email to the
real estate
, get their quotes, look at their offerings on their
websites, check out the interest payments for the finance schemes —
all without leaving your house or taking to a human being. Armed with
the information, you are now in the best position to negotiate the
best deal for yourself.

6. My World

Stock quotes are now available on the Net daily by 7 pm from
half-a-dozen sources. Many of these
(like Kotak’s My India Page) even allow
you to create your own portfolio (wonder why newspapers spend half
their printing cost on something which is non-customised and at least
12 hours late?) Samachar allows customised newspapers. Shortly,
ICICI Bank will offer you the view
of your bank account from their desktop. We are moving towards mass

7. Community

The Net has something for very interest of ours. This way, you can be
in touch with a group of people, whatever their physical
location. Community creation, the ability to share, are what the web
is uniquely able to provide. When we started our food site,
Bawarchi, it was one-way traffic of
recipes: us putting them out, people reading them. In the last two
months, we’ve been getting about 15 contributions a week from readers,
with all sorts of tips and ideas on cooking Indian food in different
parts of the world. If email is what you will go first to the Net for,
the sense of community will what will keep getting you back.

8. The Young leadeth the charge

The wiring of India will be driven by the youth of India. The younger
they are, the more Net-savvy they will be. With plenty of time and
easy access to computers from home or school/college, they will be the
ones to lead the Internetisation of India, and introduce their parents
to the wonders of the Net.

9. WebTV

I think that in the years to come, the functionality of the TV and PC
will merge together to provide a high-bandwidth interactive access
device. In India, this is very important because the PC population is
very limited, and in the last 5 years, cable has made a big impact in
penetration within the country.

10. eCommerce

Perhaps the biggest impact will be on purchasing. Once the primary
hurdle of electronic payment systems is crossed (we expect that
systems will be in place by mid-1998), retailing and online purchases
within India will take off. Books will probably be the first off the
block. Information and other “soft items” will also do well. For now,
even the ability to request items through the Net with a telephone
confirmation and courier delivery will be a big step forward.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.