rakesh-kapoor-summitExpect more and more E-commerce companies to launch Indic language interfaces this year. Rakesh Kapoor, MD of Summit Information Technologies, at the #NAMA Indic “Digital Future of Indic Languages” event, said that with most e-commerce purchases coming from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, every e-commerce company wants to go Indic. “They (consumers) want to see descriptions in their own language,” Kapoor said. Summit was among the first companies to develop Indic language technologies, in the 1990’s, and Kapoor mentioned that activity in the Indic space has picked up over the past year or so, after a long lull. “Apps are launching very, very soon,” he said.

Snapdeal had launched Hindi and Tamil translated sites earlier this year.

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Need to close the loop with Indic language advertising

lijo-isacKapoor’s point was validated by Lijo Isac, DGM (Product Management & Marketing) at Homeshop18. Isac said that “Publishers have to think at a level above the click-through rates. We (e-commerce companies) are getting traffic but it isn’t converting.” Homeshop18 advertises in Indic languages, partnering with niche publishers. The clickthrough rates are very high, but “it doesn’t convert in the end. The person who clicks on the (Indic) ad and comes to the site, sees it in English. If I put Rs 100 in Google, I have to get Rs 200 back. Online marketing is a profit center.”

Isac believes that while publishing might be the first phase for (Indic) languages, transacting will be the last phase. Responding to our query on whether there is a single Indic language payment gateway (to close the loop), Isac said that “When the entire ecosystem develops, we will be able to close some of these gaps, when the click-throughs will lead to transactions.”

In case of Homeshop18’s TV business, he added, when an anchor speaks in Hindi, the number of calls to the call center shoot up. There is latent demand on the web as well, and it’s a myth that people outside of the metros do not have sufficient purchasing power. Homeshop18’s first iPad order from the web came from Ludhiana, the second from Tirunelveli, and third from somewhere in Assam, he said. And it is needed. “Now we have reached a stage, where we have penetrated to Tier one and two cities. The next growth will come from Tier 3 cities. We have been in talks with transliteration companies. If we want to create Internet companies of the same scale as Alibaba, we need the power of interior India to wake up.”

Challenges with Indic and E-commerce

One of the things that websites need to guard against, for example, is taking an archaic approach to Indic languages. Vijayalaxmi Hegde, Director of Research Operations at Common Sense Advisory, pointed out that we can’t assume that if we add a language, people will come. “I was going through an instruction manual for a research, and had a tough time reading it because the whole thing was Sanskrit-ised. That’s not localization. Just providing a language interface for e-commerce might not help,” she said.

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Another participant mentioned that the challenge with content is that e-commerce sites are pan-India. “There is the interface, descriptions and user generated reviews, which will be viewed pan-India and be across the Indic sites. You have to translate reviews, and we still haven’t figured machine translation for major languages.”

It’s worth noting that Snapdeal’s Indic language versions, faced both issues, with machine translation gone wrong.

Also see our earlier report regarding challenges with comments in Indic languages.

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#NAMA Indic: The Digital Future of Indic Languages, was supported by Google India

Update: Edited many typographical errors. Thanks for the feedback.