India - Commercial Guide
Selling Factors and Techniques

Identifies common practices to be aware of when selling in this market, e.g., whether all sales material need to be in the local language.

Last published date: 2020-08-25

Overview:

Proper distribution coverage is important for successful sales.  Indian consumers are serviced by a working, but highly fragmented, trade system consisting of over 12-15 million retail and wholesale outlets, spread over many urban and rural population centers.  Lack of infrastructure is an issue, especially in rural areas.  India has the largest retail outlet density in the world, but most of these stores are very small in size and unorganized.

With 600 million people under the age of 25, India’s rapidly growing population appears to present limitless opportunities, but many Indian and foreign companies have discovered that for many product categories, only a fraction of India’s 1.3 billion population can be regarded as potential customers.  Many companies have been disappointed with the response to products launched in India over the past few years.  Initially, these companies grossly overestimated the depth and size of the Indian market for their products.  Projections for the growing Indian middle-class range from 260-540 million by 2025, but these figures have proven to be off the mark for certain products as marketed to the typical Western middle-class consumer.  Transposing brands and products from other markets will not always work.  Suitability and adaptation to Indian preferences and conditions is regarded as a significant benefit to Indian consumers and is therefore an important factor to be considered while designing a sales strategy.

A successful sales strategy will recognize and deal with the existence of strong local competition - this exists in many product and service categories and should not be underestimated.  U.S. firms must also carefully compare customer needs and the quality of latent demand with the level of service that they want to offer in India.  Even among the affluent middle class, much of their money is still spent on need-based consumption rather than on luxury goods.

Selling in the Indian market can be a complicated and difficult experience for new entrants.  However, this can be avoided if the market opportunity is assessed accurately and the capabilities of local competition are not underestimated.  New foreign entrants should create a new and independent sales infrastructure only in unusual circumstances.  The reason being that it is very expensive in the short run.  It also requires sustained investment to build over the long run even if the product is successful.

At first glance, the bulk of the purchasing power in India would appear to be concentrated in its urban markets.  However, sixty five percent of the Indian population lives in rural areas. 

An analysis of consumer purchase data over the last several years by various research agencies has shown that rural markets in India are growing as disposable income and literacy levels increase, and television access stimulates demand.  Due to the influence of the media, consumption patterns in rural households have also changed significantly in recent years.  Indians in rural areas are far more brand conscious, and this is generating demand for new products.  Growing brand awareness makes it more important for U.S. companies entering the Indian market to register their brand name with the Indian trademark office.

Trade Promotion and Advertising

Over the years, the Indian economy has moved from being a controlled seller’s market to a buyer’s market.  With the opening of the economy came increased competition and the need for increased advertising.  Television, at 40 percent, captures the largest chunk of the advertising expenditures followed by the digital media at 27 percent, driven by changing consumer habits and behavior.  Print media controls 22 percent and radio, outdoor advertising and the internet are all in single digits, with digital media expected to grow the fastest.  The total advertising market by 2021 is projected to be valued at $16.6 billion. However, with the uncertainties and challenges that the world faces in 2020 with the Covid-19 crisis, media spends during the year will unlikely see good growth during 2020-21.

More than 65 percent of India’s population is rural. The key to gaining rural market share is increased brand awareness and affordability, complemented with a wide distribution network to ensure availability.  Rural markets are best covered by mass media - India’s vast geographical expanse and poor infrastructure pose problems for other media to be effective. With improvements in basic telecom services and increasing penetration of smartphones in rural areas, online purchases by rural consumers are on the rise.

India has a diverse and growing number of daily newspapers.  Print media reaches seventy percent of urban adults.  Further, the number of readers in rural India is now roughly equal to that in urban India.  The print media, almost completely controlled by the private sector, is well developed and advertising and promotional opportunities are available in many newspapers including daily, weekly, or monthly business publications, news magazines and industry-specific magazines.

U.S. companies interested in advertising in Indian media can work through the many advertising agencies in the country.  Many large and reputable U.S. and other international advertising agencies are present in India in collaboration with local advertising agencies.  The advertising sector in India is technologically advanced.

In addition to advertising, established public relations firms are also available to U.S. companies that require such services.  This segment has a few U.S. and other international companies present in collaboration with local partners.  Per a recent newspaper report, Delhi-NCR (National Capital Region) could soon dislodge Mumbai from the top slot it has enjoyed for decades in the advertising business.

Trade fairs are also an effective means of promotion.  U.S. companies can select from several quality international trade fairs, both industry-specific and horizontal, to display and promote their products and services.  The U.S. Commercial Service (CS) partners with a number of Indian trade show and U.S. pavilion organizers to promote U.S. participation and U.S. company interests in a number of select trade shows in India every year.

U.S. Export Assistance Centers of the U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. industry associations, and individual U.S. states organize trade delegations and missions to visit India to explore prospects for doing business with local firms in the private and public sectors.  Participation in such trade missions, whose programs in India are managed by the U.S. Commercial Service, will be useful for U.S. companies interested in doing business in India.  Visit here for a list of trade events and trade missions supported or organized by the U.S. Commercial Service (CS) in India.

CS India also offers several easy and inexpensive options to begin promotion in the Indian market, which are particularly helpful to small and medium new-to-market companies:

In partnership with the U.S. Commercial Service in India, U.S. Exporters can arrange for co-branded customized services through our Single Company Promotions.

Pricing

In July 2017, India implemented the Goods and Services Tax (GST), a national VAT system, 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 slab rates – 5 percent, 12 percent, 18 percent, and 28 percent, with highest rates applied to luxury items. 

Petrol, diesel, petroleum products and liquor remain outside the purview of GST, and individual states have the power to impose tax.  The entertainment industry is part of the GST regime, but the local bodies such as municipality and regional governing council have power to impose additional tax.  As the GST regime stabilizes and apprehension over GST collection recedes, it may be just a matter of time that petrol and diesel will be taxed under GST.    

When formulating key strategies and making decisions about product pricing for the Indian market, it is important to remember that simple conversion of U.S. dollar prices to Indian rupees will not work in most cases.  Also, the assumption that a latent niche market for premium products exists has often resulted in low sales volumes causing negligible returns for some foreign companies.

If the product can be imitated easily in terms of quality and service, international pricing will not work in India.  To reduce product import duties or other local costs and ensure a stable market share, several foreign companies have established product assembly in India.

Pricing decisions also have some bearing on product packaging.  Many consumer product suppliers have found it helpful to package smaller portions at reduced prices rather than "economy" sizes.  Although some Indian consumers are aware of quality differences and insist on world-class products, many customers sacrifice quality concerns for price reductions.

Bargaining for the best price is a routine process for the buyer and seller in India.  For consumer goods, especially for durables, the sellers often give discounts on the listed prices during holiday seasons to attract more customers.  Trade-ins of old products for new items are also increasingly popular among consumers.  A pricing strategy must consider all these factors.

Another key consideration in pricing is Indian import tariffs.  These are high for most products, especially consumer products.  There are pockets of affluent Indians who can afford to buy a variety of luxury branded goods.  However, in general, consumer consumption patterns are very different from those in many other countries.  The middle class is growing exponentially, providing a fertile market for moderately priced items, but the prohibitive import tariffs may serve to move some items out of the reach of the Indian middle-class consumer. To learn more about GST implementation, please browse: GST Council  

Sales Service/Customer Support

To acquire new customers and retain current ones, offering prompt, comprehensive and continued after-sales customer service is crucial.  According to the American Express Global Customer Service Barometer 2017 survey, which was conducted across nine countries, including India, 84 percent of Indian consumers value customer service the most while making a purchase decision.  Secondly, to ensure efficient distribution of products and timely after-sales service, establishing your own regional service centers housed with trained technical staff and sufficient inventory in the country is preferred over partnering with third party service companies or shipping back to the U.S. for the sole purpose of servicing or repairing a product or equipment.  These considerations are very important, especially if U.S. suppliers are looking for a sustained long-term commitment and success in this value conscious and growing Indian market.

Indian buyers often consider products with low initial acquisition costs when making a buying decision without realizing that some products may require costly maintenance contracts and long downtime due to non-availability of spare parts.  U.S.-made products enjoy a reputation in India for premium quality, durability, and low maintenance costs.  Quality after-sales support rounds out the Indian customer’s expectation for a product to be considered a good value.

To compete with local and other foreign suppliers, it is essential that U.S. companies consider:

  • Using online channels to help customers in need of service information and/or to provide them with fast and convenient after sales service
  • Setting up a call center in some form staffed with knowledgeable technical personnel,
  • Having personnel ready to go on call and have spare parts on hand when replacements are needed, and
  • Establishing an efficient system for after-sales support including hiring and training technical maintenance teams.

 

Local Professional Services

Please find a directory of experienced Indian and U.S. business service providers offering services to U.S. exporters and investors at The Business Service Providers (BSP) Directory   You may also be able to identify professional service providers through any of the business associations listed in the next section titled "Principal Business Associations."

Principal Business Associations

American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) India

AmCham Corporate Office (India)

PHD House, 4th Floor, 4/2, Siri Institutional Area, August Kranti Marg

New Delhi - 110016, India

Tel: +91-11-2654 1200 / 4650 9413

Fax: +91-11-2654 1222

Email: amcham@amchamindia.com

 

Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)

CII Corporate Office (India)

Mantosh Sondhi Centre, 23, Institutional Area, Lodi Road

New Delhi - 110003, India

Tel: + 91-11-4577 1000 / 2462 9994-7

Fax: +91-11-2462 6149

Email: info@cii.in

 

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI)

FICCI Corporate Office (India)

Federation House, Tansen Marg

New Delhi - 110001, India

Tel: +91-11-2373 8760-70

Fax: +91-11-2332 0714, 2372 1504

Email: ficci@ficci.com

 

Indo-American Chamber of Commerce (IACC)

IACC Corporate Office (India)

1-C, Vulcan Insurance Building, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate

Mumbai - 400020, India

Tel: +91-70456 91088 /89/90/91

Email: ho@iaccindia.com

 

The Associated Chambers of Commerce & Industry of India (ASSOCHAM)

ASSOCHAM Corporate Office (India)

5, Sardar Patel Marg, Chanakyapuri

New Delhi – 110021, India

Tel: +91-11- 4655 0555

Fax: +91-11-2301 7008 / 9

Email: assocham@nic.in

 

U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC)

USIBC Corporate Office (India)

Level 38, DLF Center, Sansad Marg, Connaught Place

New Delhi - 110001, India

Tel: +91-11-6128 9130

Contact at http://www.usibc.com/contact-us

 

U.S.-India Importers’ Council (USIIC)

U.S.-India Importers' Council

311/301, Gokul Arcade B, Subhash Road, Opp. Garware Factory, Vile Parle (E)

Mumbai - 400057, India

Tel:  +9-22-4054 3999/ +91-99303 92611

Email: robin@usiic.in

 

U.S.-India Investors Forum (USIIF)

USIIF Corporate Office (India)

7, Tulsiani Chambers, Free Press Journal Road, Nariman Point

Mumbai - 400021, India

Tel: +91-98338 82810 / +91-98211 49366

Email: info@usiif.in mgursahani@gmail.com

 

U.S.-India Strategic Partnership Forum (USISPF)

USISPF Corporate Office

2550 M Street NW

Washington, D.C. 20037 

Tel: 202-296-2149

Email: contact@usispf.org

Please contact the U.S. Commercial Service for details of other business associations in India, including regional bodies.

Limitations on Selling U.S. Products and Services

For the most current information on India’s Prohibited Import List, please select the “Prohibited Items” and “Restricted Items” tabs under “Policies” at Directorate General of Foreign Trade

The GOI also limits or prohibits foreign investment in a wide range of sectors.  Complete prohibitions are in place in the following sectors:

  • Lottery business including Government/Private lotteries, online lotteries, etc.
  • Gambling and betting including casinos, etc.
  • Chit funds, one of the forms of saving schemes practiced in India under the chit funds act 1982.  Chit means transaction of money, usually in small installments, by which a person gets into an agreement with a specified number of persons. 
  • Nidhi Company, a Non-Banking Finance company incorporated under the Companies Act 2013.  Nidhi implies finance/fund.  The company aims for rational utilization of money and savings amongst its members and accepting deposits and lending the same to its members.
  • Trading in Transferable Development Rights (TDRs)
  • Real estate business or construction of farmhouses
  • Manufacturing of cigars, cheroots, cigarillos and cigarettes, and other tobacco products
  • Agriculture farming, plantation activities
  • Legal, accounting & architecture services

Foreign technology collaboration in any form including licensing for franchise, trademark, brand name, management contract is also prohibited for the lottery business and gambling and betting activities.  For more information refer Reserve Bank of India Master circular on Foreign Investments

Some sectors are more heavily impacted by India’s trade policies.  For example, India is an extremely challenging, protectionist market for U.S. exports of pork, poultry, poultry products, and dairy products.  Since 2003, India has imposed trade-restrictive sanitary certification requirements on global dairy imports, which block the majority of U.S. dairy products from access to India’s market. 

With respect to poultry and poultry product exports, as a result of the WTO dispute settlement action, India and the United States agreed to U.S. veterinary export certificates in March of 2018, opening the Indian market for shipments of U.S. poultry and poultry products for the first time in decades.  Despite USDA posting agreed labeling guidance and mock-up labels on its regulatory web sites, and competitive U.S. poultry prices, Indian importers remain nervous about taking advantage of the new market access.

Some U.S. service providers, for example architects, face barriers in India.  The Indian architecture market is regulated by the Council of Architecture (COA), an industry body controlled by the GOI.  The COA is responsible for regulating the education and practice of architecture in India according to the Architects Act, 1972, and the Architects Regulations, 1989.  As the COA operates in compliance with the Architects Act, 1972, the organization actively prohibits foreign architecture firms and architects who are not registered with the COA from practicing architecture in India under Chapter 3, Section 25 of the Act.  Such restrictions have resulted in foreign firms establishing partnerships with Indian architects who are registered with the COA to serve as design consultants and project planning experts while Indian firms produce the design and construction documentation and execute the projects.  Limits on foreign ownership and control vary by sector and industry. 

Please refer to Investment Climate Statement and “Licensing Requirements for Professional Services” sections   of this guide for more details.

To ensure quality healthcare, in October 2005 the GOI increased the list of medical devices covered under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act of 1940, bringing several categories of implantable devices under regulatory control. This list was further revised in October 2018, bringing several additional categories of implantable devices under regulatory control. The New classification of Medical Devices: Device with lowest risk – Class A; devices with low-moderate risk – Class B, devices with moderate-high risk – Class C; and devices with high risk – Class D.  In January 2020, the Government of India has notified all medical devices as ‘Drugs’ bringing the range of devices from instruments to implants to software intended for medical use for humans or animals under the purview of Drugs & Cosmetics Act, 1940.

In July 2017, the GOI introduced price controls on cardiac stents capping the selling price up to 70 percent lower than the prevalent market rate.  The order was followed by similar pricing cap on knee implants later in the year.   The devices were price capped after including them in the National List of Essential Medicines (NLEM).  Currently, 37 medical devices have been notified 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 NLEM and are subject to notified price caps.  The remaining medical devices are not under any form of price regulation.