Selling in the Indian market can be complicated and difficult for new entrants for a variety of reasons, including:
- Market fragmentation due to the country’s vast size, cultural and linguistic differences, and infrastructure.
- Low per capita income ($7,333 in 2021-22)
- High cost of creating and maintaining independent sales infrastructure
- High retail outlet density (12-15 million outlets) spread over many urban and rural centers, which is often small and unorganized; and
- Strong local competition.
Trade Promotion and Advertising
Over time, the Indian economy has moved from being a controlled seller’s market to a buyer’s market. India’s economic liberalization policies reached a crescendo in 1991, reducing import tariffs and taxes and deregulating markets. These changes brought foreign investment, increased competition, and a need for increased advertising. According to a 2022 Dentsu Digital Report, television captures the largest share of advertising expenditures at 42 percent, followed by digital media at 30 percent. Digital media is expected to grow at the fastest rate among all forms of advertising. Print media comprises 24 percent of advertising expenditures. Radio, outdoor, and internet advertising command smaller shares. The advertising sector, which slowed in 2020 due to the pandemic, is expected to touch $75 billion in 2022.
More than 65 percent of India’s population is rural. The key to gaining rural market share is increased brand awareness and affordability, complemented by a wide distribution network to ensure availability. Rural markets are best covered by mass media (television, newspapers, and radio), as India’s size and limited infrastructure pose challenges for effective use of other media. With improvements in basic telecommunication services and increasing penetration of smartphones in rural areas, online purchases by rural consumers are increasing.
India has a diverse and growing number of daily newspapers. Print media reaches 70 percent of urban adults. Further, the number of readers in rural India is now roughly equal to that in urban India. Print media is almost completely controlled by the private sector and advertising and promotional opportunities are available in many newspapers including daily, weekly, and monthly business publications, news magazines, and industry-specific journals. A decade ago, television was one of the most popular advertising channels but social media and platforms such as YouTube, video advertising, video blogging, and direct message tools are seeing increased use.
U.S. companies interested in advertising in the Indian media can choose from many advertising agencies. Many large and reputable international and U.S. advertising agencies are present in the market, and they work in coordination with local advertising agencies. In addition to advertising, U.S. companies can also work with established public relations firms across the country.
Trade shows are also an effective means of promotion for U.S. products and services. U.S. companies can select from several quality international trade fairs to display and promote their products and services. The U.S. Commercial Service partners with many Indian trade show and U.S. pavilion organizers to promote U.S. products and services.
The U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S.-based industry associations, and individual U.S. states organize trade delegations and missions to India to explore business prospects with Indian public and private sector buyers and prospective partners. The U.S. Commercial Service in India offers a range of services to help U.S. suppliers explore opportunities in the Indian market.
In July 2017, India implemented the GST to unify Indian states and union territories into a single market to improve the ease of doing business. The GST is designed to improve tax compliance, increase price transparency, and simplify the movement of goods within India. There are four GST rates: 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent, and 28 percent. The highest rates apply to luxury items.
Petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, natural gas, aviation turbine fuel, electricity, and liquor remain outside the scope of the GST, with individual states retaining the power of taxation. While the entertainment industry is part of the GST regime, municipalities and regional governing councils have the authority to impose additional taxes.
To avoid product import duties and other costs, some foreign companies, notably in the consumer goods sector, have established manufacturing facilities in India.
Pricing may also affect product packaging decisions. Many consumer product suppliers have found it helpful to package smaller portions at reduced prices. Although some Indian consumers are aware of quality differences and insist on world class products, many customers are willing to sacrifice quality for price.
Bargaining is routine for the buyer and seller in India. For consumer goods, especially for durables such as refrigerators, televisions, and washing machines, sellers often offer discounts during holiday seasons to attract customers. Trade-ins are also increasingly popular among consumers. A successful pricing strategy must consider these factors.
Sales Service and Customer Support
While U.S.-made products enjoy a reputation in India for premium quality, durability, and low maintenance costs, Indian buyers are price sensitive and often choose products with low initial acquisition costs. U.S. companies, especially those new to the market, often need to persuade Indian consumers to make purchases based on lifecycle costs.
The Indian customer appreciates quality after-sales support and associates it with good value. To ensure efficient distribution of products and timely after-sales service, it is usually more efficient to establish regional service centers with trained technicians and sufficient inventory than to partner with third party service companies or ship items back to the United States for servicing or product repairs. These considerations are very important when seeking long-term success in the value-conscious Indian market.
To compete with local and other foreign suppliers, U.S. companies should consider:
- Using online channels to help customers in need of service information and to provide fast and convenient after-sales service
- Establishing a call center staffed with knowledgeable technical personnel
- Having personnel on call with spare parts when replacements are needed; and
- Establishing an efficient system for after-sales support including hiring and training technical maintenance staff.
Local Professional Services
Maintained by the U.S. Commercial Service, the Business Service Providers Directory is a list of experienced Indian and U.S. businesses offering services to U.S. exporters and investors. You may also be able to identify professional service providers through the following business associations:
Principal Business Associations (in alphabetical order)
- American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) India
- Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)
- Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI)
- Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC)
- The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM)
- U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC)
- U.S.-India Importers’ Council (USIIC)
- U.S.-India Investors Forum (USIIF)
- U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF)
Please contact the U.S. Commercial Service India for details of other business associations in India, including
Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services
The Indian government limits or prohibits foreign investment in a wide range of sectors. Complete prohibitions are in place in the following sectors:
- Lottery businesses including government, private, and online lotteries
- Gambling and betting, including casinos
- Trading in Transferable Development Rights
- Real estate business or construction of farmhouses
- Manufacturing of cigars, cheroots, cigarillos and cigarettes, and other tobacco products; ND
- Legal, accounting, and architecture services.
Foreign technology collaboration in any form, including licensing for franchises, trademarks, brand names, and management contracts is also prohibited for both the lottery business and gambling and betting activities.
For the most current information on India’s Prohibited Import List, please select the “Prohibited Items” and “Restricted Items” tabs under “Regulatory Updates – Import Export and SOCMET Policy” at India’s Directorate General of Foreign Trade website.
Limitations on Meat Products
India is a challenging, protectionist market for U.S. meat products, including poultry and dairy products. Since 2003, India has imposed trade-restrictive sanitary certification requirements on global dairy imports, which continue to block most U.S. dairy products from the market.
Because of a WTO dispute settlement action, in March 2018, India and the United States agreed to U.S. veterinary export certificates, opening the Indian market for shipments of U.S. poultry and poultry products for the first time in decades. However, Indian companies are hesitant to import U.S. poultry products, despite competitive U.S. poultry prices.
In January 2022, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced the United States and India agreed to a framework to implement market access for U.S. pork and pork products. Resulting from this trade facilitation success, U.S. pork exports have the potential to expand in the future.
Limitations on Service Providers
Some U.S. service providers face barriers in India, including architecture firms. The Indian architecture market is regulated by the Council of Architecture (COA), an industry body controlled by the Indian government. In accordance with the Architects Act, 1972, the COA prohibits foreign architecture firms and architects not registered with the COA from practicing architecture in India. These restrictions have resulted in foreign firms establishing partnerships with Indian architects registered with the COA to serve as design consultants and project planning experts, while Indian firms produce the design and construction documentation and execute projects.
Please refer to the “Investment Climate Statement” and “Licensing Requirements for Professional Services” sections of this guide for more information.
Limitations on Medical Devices
To ensure quality healthcare, the Indian government increased the list of medical devices covered under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940, bringing several categories of implantable devices under the provision of Medical Device Rules 2017. Medical devices in India are classified according to the risk to patient health. The current risk classifications are Class A: Devices with the lowest risk (e.g., surgical dressings and alcohol swabs); Class B: Devices with low to moderate risk (e.g., needle kits and cervical drains); Class C: Devices with moderate to high risk (e.g., bone cement, bifurcation stents, and catheters); and Class D: Devices with high risk (e.g., coronary stents and cardiac catheterization kits).
In January 2020, the Indian government categorized all medical devices, including instruments, implants, and software intended for medical use for humans or animals, as “drugs,” bringing them under the purview of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940.
In July 2017, the Indian government introduced price controls on cardiac stents, capping the selling price at 70 percent of the prevailing market rate. That order was followed by a similar cap on knee implants. These devices were price capped after inclusion on the National List of Essential Medicines. Currently, 37 medical devices have been classified as drugs and are regulated under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act. Of these, cardiac stents, drug-eluting stents, knee implants, condoms, and intra-uterine devices are included in the National List of Essential Medicines and are subject to price caps. In February 2020, the Indian government levied a five percent ad-valorem health cess (tax) on importation of a variety of medical, dental, surgical, and veterinary devices. Furthermore, several medical device segments, including orthopedic knee implants that were previously exempt from customs duties were withdrawn from the duty exemption.
In February 2021, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade launched an online e-Tariff Rate Quota system for imports. All applicants requesting a Tariff Rate Quota must submit online through the Import Management System’s e-Tariff Rate Quota section of the importer’s dashboard on the Directorate General of Foreign Trade website.