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Will Google’s Digital Unlocked help India’s small businesses?

Google’s recently launched Digital Unlocked program faces hurdles of language and culture in tapping into the huge market of small and medium business owners across the country.

business Updated: Jan 09, 2017 14:24 IST
New Delhi: Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressing a program to announce the ''Digital Unlocked'' skill program, in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist.
New Delhi: Google CEO Sundar Pichai addressing a program to announce the ''Digital Unlocked'' skill program, in New Delhi on Wednesday. PTI Photo by Manvender Vashist.(PTI)

Last week, Google launched a program which seeks to train small and medium-sized business owners how to bring their companies online. Yet Google’s ambitious plan to bring India’s millions of small business into the digital world, which the company calls Digital Unlocked, is likely to face a range of challenges.

Launching the program in New Delhi on January 4, Google CEO Sundar Pichai called the Internet a “powerful equalizer.” Yet India’s many language barriers may make it difficult for the company provide equal access to its new service.

Digital Unlocked’s online training, which explains how to set up a website for free and shares digital marketing tips, is composed of tutorials in English; the offline training will be offered both in Hindi and English. Most of India’s registered small to mid-size businesses (SMBs), however, are located in non-Hindi, non-English speaking places. Tamil Nadu alone is home to 40 percent of registered SMBs in India.

While a company spokesperson said Google plans to introduce more languages to the program, some small business owners are sceptical of the benefits of having a website in the first place.

“Running a website on your own is very time and money consuming,” said Harvinder Singh Moti, owner at Moti Art House, an art gallery in Delhi’s Connaught Place. “The kind of budget that a small business has, we don’t have the kind of money to pump in for SEO [search engine optimization] so that the website is seen when you search on web.”

Moti feels having an online presence helps if you register as a seller with e-commerce platforms like Amazon.

Khorrum Omer, partner at the newly opened Café De Art nearby, is also unsure of the benefits of a having a website. A website may help provide people with information about his business, Omer said, but “social media is more responsive in engaging with customers.”

Others feel they don’t need a website at all. “People have been coming here since second and third generation,” said Sandeep Seth, assistant manager at Wenger’s, a popular chain of bakeries which has operated in Delhi since 1926.

Yet some small business owners see having a website as a necessity. “Social media is not a place where people transact, unfortunately,” said Raka Chakrawarti of Mumbai-based Gourmet Delight, an organic food supply e-tailer. “That’s where they become aware. Our website is the place where people transact and find out about our other products.”

Digital Unlocked is part of Google’s larger effort to increase its presence in one of the world’s largest e-commerce markets. As of 2015, almost 70 percent of India’s 51 million SMBs had no online presence, according to a Google-KPMG report. That year, Google said it wanted to bring twenty million of those online by 2017.