Google has touched over 23 million SMBs in India: Shalini Girish, Google India

Shalini Girish, Director of Marketing, Google India, tells us more about how Google tools such as Google My Business are empowering SMBs in India

Shalini Girish

Over the last five weeks, exchange4media has profiled a variety of small and medium enterprises that have been using digital tools to improve their outreach activities. These included a sweet shop in Lucknow - Ram Asrey, a new-age luxury watch brand - Tsar Watches, a Channapatna toy maker - Bharat Arts and Crafts, an ed-tech startup - iDream Education, and a handicraft enterprise - Jaipur Rugs

Each of these companies used a mix of Google’s business solutions to reach new audiences, grow online sales, and create awareness about themselves. Google has been creating solutions for SMBs for several years, but over the last three years, the company has ramped up efforts to create awareness about the initiatives and the work that Google is doing for SMBs. 

Solving for India has been the umbrella theme for Google India and the SMB efforts are part of that agenda for the tech giant in India. Google has touched a little over 23 million SMBs in India. These SMBs use the Google My Business listings, and listings on Maps to create a presence online. 

SMBs critical to India's growth

“The impact that we actually create to these smaller businesses is far more life-changing than it is to the large businesses. I've heard of stories where people are able to send their children to college, or afford better family vacations, or provide more people with jobs. That is what I think is really fulfilling,” says Shalini Girish, Director Marketing - Google India, about the impact Google has on the SMB ecosystem in India.  

“I think it is important to understand that SMBs are very critical to India's economy. They contribute almost 40 per cent of India's GDP. And they have the ability to contribute a lot more if they can expand their area of influence and grow their businesses faster. We believe that having a presence online can actually accelerate that growth for them,” says Girish. According to a Google and KPMG study which looked into the benefits of SMBs being online “SMBs who are online as compared to SMBs who are completely offline, actually grow both their profits and their revenue twice as much. These results were quite encouraging.”

One of the staggering findings of the report was that a high number of SMBs in India are still completely offline. “At that point in time, around 3 years ago, around 68 per cent of SMBs were completely offline. Some of these companies did not even have an email id. The number of SMBs who were truly engaging their users online was only 3 per cent,” she revealed. 

“So there is a huge portion of SMBs in India who are still either unable to understand the benefits of being online, or even if they understand, they have a lot of other reasons why they are probably not taking that step forward to come online,” she says. 

Market Challenges

Girish attributes this low adoption rate to three main factors: One, Most of these SMBs, probably about 90% of them are single owners. So they are running the entire operation and therefore don't have the time to invest in exploring all these new ways in which they can reach out to their customers. So they end up limiting themselves to whatever their current set up is. Two, there is also a technical capability gap. It is a perception that you need to be technologically savvy to have an online presence and this perception is prohibiting them from taking that step forward to building a presence online.  Finally, there is also a perception that it is expensive. Sometimes companies charge quite a bit for domains these days, so they do perceive it to be an expensive affair. 

Girish said that Google’s initiatives are “actually geared at removing these barriers so we can make it easy for SMBs to actually build their presence online.” These initiatives are not limited to conducting e-commerce, “but to be discovered and to connect with their consumers.” 

This is why Google launched initiatives to train users and build awareness of how to come online. “We launched Digital Unlocked in early 2016, which is a learning initiative, where you can learn either through our website or through an app we had launched during that time called Primer. Both of these are free and users can learn at their own pace and time.”  

Giving an overview on Google’s impact on SMBs Girish said that about 3,60,000 individuals have earned certifications through digital unlocked and the mobile app Primer has been downloaded 6.2 million times in India. “This clearly shows that there is a pent up need in the ecosystem for learning about digital,” she added. The Primer App is, in fact, available in Hindi and Telugu in addition to English and Google is planning to introduce it in more languages. 

Tools for SMBs

In addition to education, Google has also worked on removing technical capability inhibition. “We have simple tools SMBs can use to come online, which is where Google My Business (GMB) plays a big role.” GMB is a tool which can be used to get a business listed, both on Maps and on Search. “So when somebody is searching for, say “shoe shops near me”, either on Maps or on Search, within a certain distance, your listing can actually come up. The listing will give the name of the shop, with a picture, the distance; you can find directions or even call the business. It is very actionable and the listing is completely free. Creating the listing is also pretty simple.” 

After introducing GMB, Google went a step forward and added a feature called 'Website' on Google My Business in 2017. “We recognised that it is not enough to just get information and take action, but for businesses to transact, etc, they will need a website. Our website is probably one of the simplest to create and it is almost automatically created based on the GMB page that you have and in less than 10 minutes you can publish it.”  The websites feature is available in 10 different Indian languages.

The most recent launch in sync with GMB is an app which can be used to manage listings from mobile devices. We have also revamped and relaunched a new version of the app recently, where we've made the navigation more simple, but the most interesting feature is the new customer tab which we've launched in the app, through which businesses can directly engage with their user base. So for example, if users give a review, the business can directly reply to that review. They can chat directly with the user who is requesting to chat with them. So it has become more interactive. 

Trends and Future Plans

Girish gave us a lowdown on the trends in the SMB sector, noting that “the adoption of GMB  is not necessarily restricted to the big metros anymore.” She said that there is wide adoption of GMB in Tier II and Tier III cities, “because the consumers are actually there.” “If you think about India's Internet base, there are almost 390 million Internet users and only the first 100 million internet users are English speakers and probably half of the entire base is in metros, with the rest in Tier II and Tier III cities. So we're seeing that businesses are following that trend.” She further added that as younger entrepreneurs enter the business, there is a quicker adoption of online tools and services. 

While Google My Business, Maps Listing, Primer App are all free services, Google also offers Smart Campaigns, which is a paid service. Smart Campaigns is geared towards small businesses that want to accelerate further and use ads. 

With this full suite of products and tools, Girish says that Google has “enough of a suite” for now.  When asked if Google has any more tools and services for the Indian market, she said, “We are constantly talking about new features within our existing products. So instead of introducing new products, we aim to make the existing products richer. When new features unfold, we'll start to double down on them.” While Google’s efforts have impacted a huge number of markets, less than 40% of the SMB market has adopted these tools. “We still have some way to go,” Girish signed off.
 

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