Aeons ago, the Mayans predicted that the world would end in the year 2012. Almost six revolutions around the sun later, Planet Earth is alive and still kicking. Funnily enough, the period that was doomed to be the end of life aligned very closely with when things in India boomed, giving way to a new way of life—an era where a modern-day apocalypse means the Internet has shut down for a whole day. Or all the apps on your phone have disappeared without a way to bring them back.
A 2015 report by Morgan Stanley states that India is the second largest Internet market in the world. From 2010 to 2014 alone, the country’s Internet users tripled from 100 million to 300 million. According to a Google spokesperson, over the next five years, i.e. by 2020, this number could again double up to almost 650 million.
Basically, an increasing number of Indians are logging on for more than just a simple Google search. Thanks to the digital era, there have been many changes in the life of an Indian woman. We find out what she’s been up to, one app, website and gadget at a time.
Evolution: When Carrie Bradshaw said, “I like my money where I can see it, hanging in my closet,” who knew she was predicting a trend in the Indian e-commerce scene. Today, apparel is one of the top categories purchased by women online. E-commerce sites have had their fair of sceptics but over time, convenience has trumped doubts.
Trends: “I think the biggest trend we’ve observed is that, women have definitely gotten more comfortable shopping online. When we first launched in 2007, women mostly bought only tops. In the past one year, we’ve seen a spike in the sale of dresses and trousers—something that is considered more tricky,” says Bindu Mendonsa, SVP and head of women’s and men’s businesses at Myntra.Fashion may be religion for some but there’s no denying that a devotion to it can leave your wallet feeling too light. In such a scenario, clothing rental platforms are no less than knights in shining armour. Chaitali Parmar, founder, TALI, a fashion rental service, says, “Women are becoming more aware of the fact that investing in fast fashion allows them to wear an outfit only a few times. Renting an outfit, on the other hand, allows women to afford a great outfit at 10 per cent of the MRP.” New outfits for that picture perfect gram? We definitely aren’t complaining.
And somewhere in between all the scrolling, shopping and renting, came about the biggest difference to the online shopping experience. Women are no longer relying on models or mannequins to judge what an outfit will look like. “If you see a digital influencer, or someone you relate to, try on a certain outfit or style you were curious about, it just gives you that extra motivation to try it out for yourself. And when influencers talk about certain products, they often leave links to it in their social media posts, which make it that much easier to find something,” says Sejal Kumar, a digital influencer and YouTuber.
What we love: ‘Try and buy’ features that allow us check out how clothes and shoes look on us before we pay. A trial room experience at home? We’re sold.
The way forward: The clothing industry is not that far behind the oil industry in claiming the prize for largest polluter. So, more reusable or sustainable fabric? Yes, please.
Evolution: Online sales have played a huge role in the booming of the beauty market. Shashibhushan Udyavar, digital marketing head of the Consumer Products Division, L’Oréal India, explains, “Three to four years ago, the need was primarily driven by digital natives who had both good access to internet connectivity and payment systems, and products that weren’t easily available locally. Now, online shopping has become more accessible to a broader audience.”
Trends: “Before, a woman’s source of finding out what’s trending was TV. With social media, she is more aware of international trends and beauty products,” says Hitesh Malhotra, CMO, Nykaa. International influencers also impact women’s buying habits today. “The Kardarshians, for example, are a major influence on the Indian woman. When Gigi Hadid collaborated with Maybelline, we saw the line become quite popular with our audience,” says Malhotra. This could also explain why Nykaa witnessed a boom in their luxe or international makeup products, which now makes up about 14 per cent of their total revenue.
What we love: Virtual swatching features that allow users to judge what a shade of lipstick or nail paint will look like.
The way forward: Less parabens and carcinogenic ingredients, more organic and natural beauty products.
Evolution: Coco Chanel famously said, “The best things in life are free. The second best things are very, very expensive.” Which could explain why renting has become as popular in the furniture and décor space as it has in fashion. “If you purchase a piece of furniture, you get stuck with it. If you rent it, you have the option of terminating your contract and opting for a new piece whenever you feel like it,” says Sidhant Lamba, founder, Fabrento.
Trends: According to Aishvarya Chanakya, VP, Marketing at Furlenco, urban millennials aren’t just edgy but practical too. “Since more women are residing alone or with flatmates, there’s an increasing need for multi-use furniture—for example, a one-piece unit that comprises a TV, speakers, charging points, a reading light and a single mattress,” says Chanakya.
What we love: Today, you can rent everything you need for a two-bedroom home for about Rs 5,000 a month, while buying could set you back by a couple of lakhs. So, basically, lesser money spent equals more money saved for new experiences.
The way forward: Pointing your phone to a corner in your room and imagining exactly what an armchair would look like there? Augmented reality ftw!
Evolution: Thanks to a cornucopia of food apps available today, you can have food delivered to your doorstep before your stomach growls in displeasure. Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda—the culture of dabbawalas seem to have gotten a new twist and we aren’t complaining. It’s easy to see where the appeal comes from—Quick deliveries, real-time tracking and the option to pre-schedule a meal, upping convenience for users.
Trends: According to Rishi Khiani, MD, Scootsy, a Mumbai-specific food, fashion and lifestyle delivery service, about 54 per cent of their orders are placed by women. Of these, almost 70 per cent orders are food related. He says, “When we launched in 2015, we noticed people mainly using the service to get their main meals, like lunch or dinner, delivered to their doorsteps. Now, we notice a surge in breakfast orders and the hours between 4-7 pm.”
In recent times, orders for more protein-based food or fresh fruit juices and salads have gone up too, indicating a change of want to need. “According to our order analysis from the months of January to March 2017, Indian women were 15 per cent more likely to order a healthy meal online as compared to their male counterparts,” says Srivats TS, VP, Marketing at Swiggy.
What we love: Food apps aren’t just hyperlocal anymore. If you’re craving banana chips from Kerala or Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri, platforms like Place Of Origin and Flavours Of My City allow you a taste of authentic food from cities all over India without having to travel there.
The way forward: Food that is tasty or delivered quickly just doesn’t cut it anymore. With an increasing demand for food that is healthy and not time consuming to prepare, organic food and pre-prepped meals definitely seem to be the future of food-delivery in India.
Evolution: When launched five years ago, mobile wallets in India were nowhere as popular as they are today. According to a 2017 survey by analytics company GlobalData, the adoption of mobile wallets in India is much higher than in the US and the UK.
Trends: Upasana Taku, co-founder and director of Mobikwik, says,“Earlier, people used mobile wallets only while shopping online. Now, they’re used even for commuting and grocery shopping,” she says. Such platforms are easier to understand than netbanking. “Online credit is so much easier. When you want to make a payment, you don’t even have to enter any card details. And you have credit without any account balance. This is especially useful when you need some end-of-the-month liquidity,” says Akshat Saxena, director and founder, ePayLater, which claims to get more traction from non-metros (55 per cent) than metros (45 per cent).
Now, more than ever, women are taking charge of financial matters. Taku says, “When we first launched, about 85 per cent of our consumer base was male. Today, we have around 65 per cent men and 35 per cent women transacting with us.” LazyPay’s, a flagship product of PayU, finding are the same. “With the rise of digital platforms, we’ve noticed women getting more hands-on with money matters where they no longer have to ask a male member for money or what the OTP sent to their phone is,” says Pallav Jain, head of consumer business at PayU India.
What we love: Earlier, paying for an item online took longer than selecting what to buy. But now, the payment process is faster than we could ever imagine.
The way forward: With Unified Payments Interface (UPI), peer-to-peer transactions can also be just as smooth and quick as peer-to- merchant transactions.
Evolution: You know things have really changed when queen of prime-time TV, Ekta Kapoor, goes digital with AltBalaji, an Indian digital subscription video streaming platform. According to Rajiv Vaidya, CEO, Spuul India, about 95 to 97 per cent of video content is consumed on handheld devices.
Trends: With video streaming platforms, bingeing is no longer limited to food. According to Anne Wallin, director of consumer and brand communications, Netflix Asia, “One of our studies revealed Indians to be the second highest “public bingers” in the world with 88 per cent of fans watching entertainment on the go. In fact, Netflix has become an integral part of our consumers’ travel experience.”
Contrary to popular belief about English content being better received, vernacular content consumption isn’t far behind either. According to Vaidya, Tamil, Malayali and Bengali are the most popular on Spuul, after Bollywood.
The number of Indians chuckling has also been directly proportionate to the growth of these platforms. “Video- streaming services have played a big role in popularising stand-up comedy across the country. What used to be an urban phenomenon is now one of the most-watched content categories,” says Vijay Subramaniam, director of content at Amazon Prime Video India.
What we love: Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black or Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs Maisel show that content natively produced by these platforms focus more on developing strong female characters that women can relate to.
The way forward: With 360 degree videos, 4K and 8K resolution and virtual and augmented reality headsets getting popular, we may no longer have to head to a theatre for a larger-than-life experience.
Evolution: The way Indians listen to music has drastically changed with music-streaming apps. What was earlier played on radio is now streamed anywhere, anytime.
Trends: According to Sameer Batra, CEO, Content & Apps, Bharti Airtel, over 1.5 billion songs are played on Wynk Music every month, by users all over the country. “Men still make the larger chunk of active listeners, and yet, on an average, women stream significantly more songs on the app compared to men. And, it isn’t just the urban audiences we are talking about, as almost half of our users come from tier II or III cities and rural areas. We’ve also noticed rising interest in international music among these listeners,” says Batra.
Regional content is also popularly consumed. “Indian music enthusiasts love listening to music in their own languages; Hindi, Tamil, Punjabi, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Artistes like Arijit Singh, Kishore Kumar, A R Rahman are the top three most-requested Indian artistes,” says Sahas Malhotra, director, Amazon Music India.
What we love: The option of personalising music into playlists based on mood or genre has definitely been a game-changer.
The way forward: Thanks to AI, finding new music has become much easier, with apps suggesting songs based on listening experience and search patterns.
Evolution: Whoever said diamonds are a girl’s best friend has never read a book. And in the epic battle of paperbacks vs ebooks, even the staunchest bibliophiles seem to be giving in.
Trends: Digital reading in India isn’t finding an audience amongst just English readers. In fact, in December 2016, Amazon Kindle launched ebooks in five Indian languages: Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Marathi and Gujarati. “In India, every year, a Kindle device owner downloads 10 times the number of books than a non-device owner,” says an Amazon spokesperson.
And with every page turned, India’s reading community is witnessing another change. Manpreet Kaur, has been making book-related videos on YouTube since 2015 and is a part of India’s small, but rising, booktubing community. “It’s a much bigger phenomenon internationally but it’s catching up here too, where readers get influenced by my reviews,” she says. There has also been a change in the kind of books women seek today. “We’re looking for plots where women play a bigger role than someone’s love interest. This explains why Amish Tripathi’s Sita: Warrior Of Mithila is so popular. For the first time, we have Sita being projected differently from everything we knew about her,” says Kaur.
What we love: With ebooks, all our favourite books stay safe in one device and it hardly weighs a feather.
The way forward: Reading a book may become a passé with audiobooks and platforms like LibriVox and Audible becoming popular.
Evolution: When was the last time you picked up a newspaper and read it cover-to-cover? Reports state that more and more youngsters today turn to social media for their daily news. Earlier, broadcast trumped print in terms of timeliness but today, social media is the ultimate winner.
Trends: Amrita Tripathi, manager for news partnerships at Twitter India says, “There is a change in how we interact with the news. It’s no longer just about one-way broadcasts, or waiting to know what the news of the day was. Today, it’s so much more instant and interactive than that.” Recently, Twitter noticed around five million tweets around the Karnataka elections, showing that it is possible to react on a real-time basis, consume news minute-to-minute and take the conversation forward. “All you need to look at is how women responded to #MeToo to see how dynamic and powerful social media is,” says Tripathi.
Even the format through which Indians consume their news has undergone a change. According to Tripathi, tweets with photographs see better engagement than plain text, and tweets with videos even more so. Short-form content seems to be a huge hit with Indians, considering that Inshorts (an app that delivers news in 60-word packages) has seen over 10 million downloads since its launch four years ago, with users opening the app on an average of three times a day and spending a minimum of 13 minutes on it.
What we love: Deciding the kind of news you want to consume has made a huge difference. As Azhar Iqubal, CEO, Inshorts puts it, personalisation of news feeds and ease of sharing of viral content makes social media more popular.
The way forward: Automation may just become a part of journalism soon. In a few years, organisations will be able to use tools that automatically create stories.
Evolution: With home assitants, you have your answer before you’re done typing the question on your smartphone.
Trends: A Google spokesperson says, “Since all that Google Home requires is voice activation, we’ve seen even the elderly take to it easily.”
“As Amazon Echo runs in the cloud, the service is always getting smarter as more and more consumers interact with it,” says Puneesh Kumar, country manager, Alexa Experience and Devices, Amazon India.
What we love: Amazon’s Alexa’s ‘disengage’ mode to shut down sexually explicit comments, and Google Home’s voice changing options.
The way forward: Assistants that can make phone calls or schedule appointments, and smart display screens.
Evolution: Taxi-hailing apps have changed the way women travel now. In 2018, Uber released a report that stated that about 24 per cent of women over the globe admitted that ride hailing has increased their independence.
Trends: An Uber spokesperson explains: “With features such as emergency buttons, GPS tracking and the ability to share ride details with loved ones, women have an enhanced safety experience.”“App-based services tend to be cleaner, with professional and courteous drivers,” says an Ola spokesperson.
What we love: Shared cab rides lead to lesser pollution and more affordability.
The way forward: Mobile ticketing for buses, trains, metros could change the way we commute.
Evolution: With an online market for groceries, the bar for convenience has definitely been raised.
Trends: “Online shopping has moved to tier II cities as well. Consumer preferences have changed too—from groceries to pet care and gardening products,” says Raagaleena Sripada, senior marketing manager, bigbasket. “Online options offer wider variety and efficient delivery,” says Sameer Khetarpal, director of category management (Grocery) at Amazon India.
What we love: Speed, convenience, discount offers and cashback options.
The way forward: Amazon Go allows users to visit a store and buy products without an actual cashier or checkout station.
Evolution: There has been a steady rise in the number of web platforms like Didi and BookMyBai offering domestic help services.
Trends: Andrew Vazhakkall, CEO and founder, MyChores says, “When we started in 2014, we used to get 10 to 15 requests a month. We now get 35 to 50 enquiries per day from Mumbai alone.”
What we love: The screening and shortlisting process makes it less cumbersome. Besides, the reliable user reviews are an added bonus.
The way forward: Better pay and other perks, such as insurance and flexible work hours for domestic workers, will make it a win-win situation for everyone.
Evolution: From visiting a doctor to buying medicines, Indians are taking to their smartphones for their health and fitness needs.
Trends: All a woman needs today is a prescription and an app and voila! The medicines are delivered. Of course, most women’s smartphones double up as their workout buddy and gym trainer too. The most interesting change, however, has been in the area of mental health, from counselling to meditation apps.
What we love: Digital period trackers give us regular updates on when to expect Aunt Flo next.
The way forward: The use of information technology and telecommunication to administer health services, making healthcare more accessible for everyone.
Evolution: Dating apps arrived in India to millennials cheering and Gen X-ers scoffing, but looks like they’re here to stay.
Trends: In 2015, Tinder launched a new feature—Super Like, which allows users to express more interest than just a right swipe. “Women use the Super Like feature frequently, which just goes to say that they like to make their choices known,” says Taru Kapoor, GM India, Tinder and Match Group. “Forty two per cent of our audience is now from non-metros,” says Sachin Bhatia, co-founder of TrulyMadly.
What we love: Apps like Bumble that allow only women to initiate a conversation.
The way forward: Inclusivity for people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community.
Love, fashion, beauty, health—there’s something changing for the better each day but unfortunately, only 29 per cent of women can access these changes due to low digital literacy in India. All hope, however, isn’t lost. By 2020, it is expected that women will make up 40 per cent of the Indian Internet user base. The possibilities of what this could lead to are endless, since every new woman taking a step in the digital direction is a giant leap for womankind.
Photographs: shutterstock, Femina