Expanding big ecommerce beyond metros: Challenges and the road ahead

For eCommerce giants to target smaller cities and towns is tricky terrain. Television and cricket are helping matters, but could roads be mapped out yet?

In a recent interview with Social Samosa, Rishav Choudhury, Head of Digital Marketing, CashKaro had listed out two issues they face while trying to expand presence beyond metro cities. First, educating the users about their concept and second, language barriers in new markets. Building on this, we took a deeper look at how eCommerce platforms are expanding reach, with a focus on ‘media dark’ cities and towns.

“Media-dark markets are geographics where the average penetration and consumption of media vehicles is lower. As a result, reaching audiences in these geographies is challenging and expensive,” explains Anand Chakravarthy, Managing Director, India, Essence.

According to Chakravarthy, television continues to be a key reach medium for e-commerce brands. “We see e-commerce brands using mass television and properties like cricket to reach consumers in tier-2 and tier-3 markets,” he says, adding that brands are also using DD cricket feed for it gives them a deeper penetration into small markets and semi-rural markets as well.

Also Read: Social media and their importance in Ecommerce gateways

Expansion decisions are key 

Chakravarthy tells us that not all eCommerce brands are focussing on going deeper into India. “There are niche eCommerce brands that focus on the top 10-12 metros. There are, of course, larger players that are looking to build the category beyond the metros,” he says.

Further, he tells us about the emergence of premium platforms that offer luxury products and experiences online. “These e-commerce platforms are focussed on top 4-5 metros only and typically use digital alone to reach out to their niche audiences.”

In the F&B space, there are eCommerce platforms that currently cater only to specific cities by offering services like milk and dairy product deliveries. “Here, they look at local media and digital as platforms to use,” he explains, adding that depending on the market focus, the brand media strategies of eCommerce platforms range from a mass media integrated approach to a digital-only approach.

Also Read: 7 easy tips to rock your eCommerce brands on social media

Regional, local, hyperlocal

“On mass media, leveraging regional channels is a good way to build depth of penetration,” he says, explaining how this works well in markets like Maharashtra, West Bengal and Bihar where regional channels have good reach and affinity. In digital, new opportunities are emerging that can help a brand penetrate into smaller markets. “There are specific apps that have high usage in these markets and should be tested for efficacy. Audio is a powerful format and combined with a telco partner, it can be leveraged to target deeper pockets of India,” he suggests.

Building a category and growing usage is not an easy task and requires a consistent marketing strategy to deliver, he says, appreciating Flipkart’s advertising and how it aims to tackle some of the existing barriers towards online shopping and their consistent effort to grow eCommerce adoption in India.

Analytics and budget

Analytics tools can be used to measure effective RoI from different platforms. “This helps budget allocation across different platforms with a focus on platforms that are most effective and/or drive more efficiency,” he says, explaining how the eCommerce business is all about data and using analytics to derive actionable insights is a key ongoing effort by most eCommerce platforms.

The road ahead

Biswabaran Chakrabarty, President, Rural Marketing Association of India feels that eCommerce players are being upfront in communicating the benefits to rural consumers, who are starting to see the benefits too. He explains that rural India is not as dark anymore.

“The topic is debatable at best. My view is that it is a comparative term in the context of a comparison with urban markets.” Further, he lists three important things that marketers should do when trying to communicate to media dark

  • Reach out to the consumers and understand them
  • Ask them — what works best for them?
  • Using vernacular languages to communicate is key



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Jagruti is a mass media student in search for all things perfect. A lover of stories, book worlds and signs, she can find magic in almost everything she sees, reads and writes. Follow her on Twitter @JagrutiVerma


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