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More than half of new Internet users in India will be from rural communities, and rural users will constitute almost half (48%) of connected users in India by 2020, a report ”The Rising Connected Consumer in Rural India” (pdf) by The Boston Consulting Group suggests.

The report adds that number of Indian rural internet users will increase from about 120 million in 2015 to about 315 million 2020, registering close to a 30% y-o-y growth. The growth will be driven by cheaper handsets, explosion of wireless and wireline networks; but this will change how rural consumers interact with companies, as the report claims that the pattern of internet use in rural areas is different from that of its urban counterpart.

All data in this report is taken from a survey answered by 4,000 rural consumers in 27 villages in 14 states in 2015 and 2016.

Consumer spending behaviors and product preferences are different in both situations, and interestingly the report pointed out that internet users in rural India are “almost exclusively” men who make up 98% of the total connected users. This is different in an urban setting; even though urban Internet users could be male dominated with 79% of them being male, women are constantly growing in numbers and currently constitute 21% of the total urban users.

Categorizing rural Internet users

The report adds that “it is a mistake to regard rural users as single set” of users and classifies users in rural communities into 5 different categories based on their internet usage patterns:

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Mature users are aged between 18-50 years (mostly male), salaried or a businessman from an affluent household, according to the report. They constitute almost 19% of the rural population, while making up almost 30% of the rural Internet users. Mature users have been online longer than users in any other category spending close to 2-3 hours online a day, mostly via smartphones. They search for job discovery, explore news, and play games online.

Ambitious users consist of 8% of the rural community, but account for about 33% of the rural Internet users. These users are mostly young college graduates, and could belong to less affluent households. Ambitious users spend close to 2-3 hours daily on internet enabled devices which are not necessarily smartphones. They play online games, download media end are mostly active on social networking sites.

Late adopters are 30-50 year old men making up 15% of the rural populations, where the group has a 16% Internet penetration. They spend 1-2 hours daily on the Internet and mostly use entry-level smartphones for access. Late adopters are again mainly active on social media.

Next-Wave users constitute around 36% of rural users, accounting for an Internet penetration of around 9%. These users could be young female homemakers from a well-off household. Not all of next wave users in rural areas are college graduates and they spend only around 15 minutes daily on the Internet using an Internet-enabled phone. Next Wave users use the internet for streaming music or exploring social media.

-Some users are termed as ‘dark on the Internet’ since they have very little interest in going online, and they make up just 1% of the rural Internet users.  They comprise both older men and women who are aged above 50 years and are not highly educated, nor come from affluent households.

Usage pattern of rural Internet users

As the report pointed out earlier, every category of rural Internet users have varying usage and preferences and; the patterns can be expected to evolve over time as they gain more experience by browsing more sites. More than 60% of rural users have been online for less than two years, “which means most rural users are still relatively immature digitally.”

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Social media usage pattern: Close to 70% users use the Internet to access social media sites, but there is a notable difference between what urban and rural users are upto on social media.

“Urban users focus on the social aspect including chatting with friends on Facebook, while people in rural areas use social networks to access the Internet, which is where their consumption of content—such as news and videos—primarily occurs,” said the report.

Apart from social media, rural Internet users utilized Internet to download media (45%), searching for info (41%), and chatting or e-mailing (30% each).

State-wise usage pattern: Users from the northern and southern parts of the country mostly use Internet for online video and voice calling to stay in touch with family members who live abroad. In the south, where literacy rates are higher, online job portals and education-related search activities are prevalent, said the report.

The disparity in state-wise usage can be connected to the Internet penetration in these areas: Southern states including Kerala and Tamil Nadu, and four northern states including Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir have the highest penetration, the report added.

– Kerala has 37% Internet penetration,
– Himachal Pradesh at 28%,
– and Punjab at 27%.

However several eastern states, including  Bihar (9%), Odisha (10%), West Bengal (11%), and Assam (12%), have low Internet penetration comparatively.

Other highlights from the report

 – Only 15% of rural consumers use Internet to research or purchase products online, or register satisfaction or dissatisfaction with a purchased product , while compared with 30% of urban consumers.

-From 2015 to 2016, the penetration of e-commerece in rural areas doubled from 4% to 8%. This growth was driven by ‘convenience’ and ‘discounts’.

-Rural Internet users are consuming or buying less products/services in categories, such as consumer durables, autos, apparel, and entertainment, when compared to urban users.

Image Credits: Flickr user CIAT under CC BY-SA 2.0