Big Tech can help SMBs with digital adoption: Google India’s Shalini Girish

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Small businesses in India are struggling with digital adoption amid the Covid-19 pandemic, and are looking for Big Tech to handhold them through this process, according to Shalini Girish, Director-India, Google Customer Solutions. “India is unique in that young consumers are far ahead of businesses in terms of digital adoption. Now, businesses are having to catch up much faster,” Girish told BusinessLine. Google India recently brought out a report with Kantar to assess the impact of Covid-19 on Small Medium Businesses (SMBs), the challenges they face, and the areas where they need supportAccording to the report, 93 per cent of businesses face customer-related challenges, including lower demand and inability to meet fixed costs. Further, 30 per cent of businesses are clueless about their next step to cope with these challenges. SMBs need hand-holding Small businesses are looking for a digital solution to reach out to consumers in order to increase demand. According to the report, six out of 10 businesses are willing to adopt at least one digital solution — such as an increase in digital marketing spending, adoption of social media, online sales, and so on. Businesses are seeking help from tech companies in the areas of training, learning tools, and useful information to grow.“About 90 per cent of businesses stated that they are facing customer-related challenges. That’s not surprising given that, during the lockdown, a lot of their businesses came to a standstill and they were struggling to understand how to connect to the consumer. A majority of these businesses are looking for hand-holding. They want to be supported during this time and they want hand-holding from tech companies,” Girish said. Girish further emphasised the need for businesses to adapt to the “new normal”, which is a major challenge for SMBs. “Businesses will need to adapt to this new environment, this new normal; I think a lot of them are still on that journey. They haven’t really understood it yet,” Girish said. “New consumer behaviours are emerging, which they need to adapt to… whether it is contactless delivery or digital payment. In the past, consumers may not have paid too much attention to all of that. But now they need to come up with new ways of doing business,” she added. Guiding SMBs through this digital adoption will require a joint effort from Big Tech, according to the Google India executive. “We’ve been focussing on bringing modern medium businesses on to digital for several years now. But in a country like India which has 63 million SMEs, it’s gonna take a village, including the government here. I do see tech companies needing to play a critical role to help these small businesses adapt rapidly to this new environment,” she said. “The reason why we need to help them also to adapt is that our anticipation or expectation is that some of these consumer behaviours will stick even after Covid. It becomes convenient and easy, and (consumers) may not want to go back to their old behaviours. It is something we want to definitely play a role in,” she added. Expanding beyond the metros Asked about the rate of tech adoption for consumers as well as businesses in non-metro regions, Girish said, “There are enough data points that show that there are more Indians coming online from rural India and Tier One-plus sites than there are in urban India; I think urban India is almost kind of there. So a majority of all new users was coming from Tier Two, Three and rural.”“We have trained over 1 million people through our digital unlock program. And we’ve seen that almost 40 per cent of users on our scaling platforms are coming from beyond metros and Tier One cities already,” she said. In order to make digital adoption more accessible for people beyond metros, tech companies will also require to focus on enabling these solutions in regional languages. According to the Google-Kantar report, 79 per cent of businesses have expressed interest in learning about digital solutions in regional languages“There is a lot of pent-up demand. The other thing to ensure that, beyond metros, these businesses find their way onto these platforms is to make sure that the products are available in Indian languages,” Girish told BusinessLine. “India is a mobile-first country, More than half of our users are beyond these metros. So in a mobile-first country, the tools and features and products for these SMBs need to be built to optimise for that experience,” she added. Google India recently launched a range of initiatives for SMBs, including features such as ‘Nearby Spot’ on Google Pay to help local businesses get discovered by customers in their vicinity along with additional features on Google Search and Google Pay. It will also work with its partner financial institutions to offer loans for merchants through its Google Pay for Business app.

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