Rapid growth in Internet usage in rural India is a double-barreled game-changer, with up to 300 million Indian consumers expected to be online by 2020. While most of the focus to date has been on urban users, rural areas—which are home to two-thirds of the country’s population, or some 870 million people—are where much of the action will be for the rest of the decade. We expect that more than half of all new Internet users will come from rural communities and that rural users will constitute about half of all Indian Internet users in 2020. Cheaper mobile handsets, the spread of wireless data networks, and evolving consumer behaviors and preferences will all drive rural penetration and usage. They will both change how rural consumers interact with companies and give companies many more options for engaging with rural consumers.
As we observed last year in our article on the changing digital consumer in India, new users of all kinds will approach the online experience with very different expectations, needs, priorities, and goals. (See “The Changing Connected Consumer in India,” BCG article, April 2015.) Understanding the changes taking place in Internet adoption and use in India and how these shifts will affect existing markets and ways of communicating—and create entirely new ones—is essential for anyone doing business in the world’s second-most-populous country, which is also soon to be the world’s second-largest nation of connected consumers.
This article looks at the changes taking place in India’s rural communities. Our observations and insights are based on surveys conducted by the Center for Customer Insight (CCI) of approximately 4,000 rural consumers in 27 villages in 14 states in 2015 and 2016. The objective of the surveys was to better understand the rural Internet user and the nature and extent of digital influence on his or her buying decisions.