BANGALORE, India — Solely 10 p.c of India’s 1.three billion individuals know English. But many of the nation’s e-commerce providers have been provided solely in English, closing off on-line purchasing to the overwhelming majority of individuals right here.
Now Amazon is aiming to interrupt by way of that language barrier. The e-commerce big on Tuesday provided a hearty “namaste” to this nation’s half a billion Hindi audio system by making its native web site and apps accessible in India’s hottest language. Customers of the India website or app will be capable to select Hindi as their most well-liked language, a lot as American customers can select Spanish.
Amazon’s enlargement into Hindi — its first foray into an Indian language, at the same time as different corporations have tried that technique and pulled again — is significant to the corporate’s ambition of constructing India its subsequent large market.
“The following 100 million prospects must be within the vernacular language,” stated Kishore Thota, director of buyer expertise and advertising and marketing for Amazon India.
Mr. Thota stated the corporate’s analysis discovered that eight out of 10 Indian prospects would like to buy in a language apart from English. “The extent of belief will increase once they see one thing in their very own language,” he stated in an interview at Amazon’s India headquarters in Bangalore.
If the Hindi variations of its website and apps are profitable, Amazon plans to rapidly add choices to buy in different main Indian languages, similar to Bengali, Tamil, Kannada and Telugu, that are dominant in areas exterior the Hindi belt within the north.
Amazon’s Hindi website is probably the most formidable try thus far to serve Indian consumers who don’t converse English. One other e-commerce website, Snapdeal, tried local-language versions about three years ago, then abandoned them because few customers used them.
Amazon is betting that the market is more ready now, especially as cheap mobile data means that Indian-language speakers are coming online at a brisk clip.
Paytm, a digital payments company that operates the No. 3 online retailer, Paytm Mall, began allowing customers to make purchases in 10 Indian languages in October. About 15 percent of the site’s customers do that, said Amit Sinha, who heads the digital marketplace.
But most of Paytm’s listings are still in English. Converting them to other languages requires Paytm to build new automated translation tools as well as to persuade sellers and brands to translate their own content. “It’s a multidimensional problem,” Mr. Sinha said.
For Amazon, creating a Hindi-language site and app was difficult from the start. When the company began building its Hindi app and site about two years ago, it first tried to run the English version through a translation algorithm. The result “was completely illegible,” Mr. Thota said.
So the team went back to the drawing board, tapping people to translate key listings and steps in the purchase process into colloquial Hindi. They then showed samples to actual and potential customers, refined them, and used the final versions to train the algorithms to do mass translation.
Not everything has been translated yet, and Amazon is working with leading brands to convert their pages. People are also reviewing pages to make sure they look right, since there is often more than one way to translate an English phrase into Hindi.
One challenge is that spoken Hindi mixes in a lot of English. Amazon decided that some words and phrases, like “free,” “jeans” and “cash on delivery” should be kept in English but written using Hindi’s Devanagari script.
Language is just one barrier to increasing the number of online shoppers in India, which is adding 40 million internet users a year, according to a recent study by Bain, Google and the Omidyar Network, an investment firm.
Most of the 390 million Indians with internet access use it to chat with friends and family, watch videos, listen to music, look for religious content and read the news, the study found. Just 40 percent transact online, and about one-third of those stop after one purchase.
Roopa Kudva, who heads Omidyar’s operations in India, said that buying something online is the last step in the journey of a new internet user.
“Indians are very comfortable experimenting on the internet,” she said. “But the moment it comes to making payments online, people think it’s a very sophisticated thing that requires expert knowledge, and they shy away from it.”
While being able to shop in a familiar language is important, she said, many of the global conventions of online shopping, such as the shopping cart, are unfamiliar to Indians, who are more used to going to a store and asking a shopkeeper to pull items from a shelf.
Amazon said it realized that the Hindi version of its site will not suddenly solve those problems.
“It will make people feel a lot more comfortable that we understand them,” said Amit Agarwal, the head of Amazon India. “But we are focused on all the barriers that will ultimately transform how India buys and sells.”
For example, Amazon offers customer support in half a dozen Indian languages, and today, more than half the queries are in languages other than English.
The company has also signed up about 14,000 retail locations across India for its Amazon Easy program, in which a local shopkeeper helps customers place Amazon orders, receive packages, and then delivers them. “They provide basic customer service in a language the customer understands,” Mr. Thota said.
It is not clear how quickly other companies might follow. Flipkart, India’s largest online retailer, has not begun offering its services in local languages. Walmart recently bought a majority stake in the company for $16 billion, and it is unclear what plans the American retailer has in that area.
Google is also considering a move into e-commerce in India. It recently invested in the Chinese online retailer JD.com, and last week announced plans to turn its multilingual Indian payments app, Google Pay, into more of a portal through which offline and online merchants could handle transactions.
By 2021, 73 percent of India’s internet users will prefer to use languages other than English, compared with 57 percent in 2016, according to a study last year by KPMG and Google.
Given those trends, every e-commerce site in India has to figure out a way to address the local-language problem.
“Anybody who is serious about this country will have to do it,” said Mr. Sinha of Paytm.
Follow Vindu Goel on Twitter: @vindugoel.
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