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Will India Overcome the Super-app Conundrum? India is a very large market where there is typically space for more than one player. While digital penetration is already high, the right combination of idea, design and execution is crucial to make super-app a success

By Shrabona Ghosh

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Though super-app as a concept is not novel, yet the Indian market has failed to get the algorithm right. A super-app is a mobile or web application that can provide multiple services, effectively becoming an all-encompassing commerce and communication online platform.

Globally, WeChat in China, Go-Jek in Indonesia, Kakao in South Korea, among a few others have successfully cracked the code. Then why is the Indian market behind? Multiple reasons. Indian consumers are spoiled for choices: Thanks to fast, deep and cheap penetration of data, they look for 'best of breed' solutions which are hard to provide in a super app across categories.

In a LinkedIn poll created by Entrepreneur India 44 per cent people said they enjoy using Paytm as a super-app, followed by Tata Neu at 43 per cent and Jio super-app at 13 per cent. Paytm, was launched as a payments wallet in 2010 and has now elevated to become a superapp. "The increasing adoption of payments use cases on our platform has resulted in our monthly transacting users (MTU) growing 32 per cent year-on-year to reach a new milestone of 85 million for the quarter ended December 2022," the company said in its blog early this year.

Tata Neu, despite the backing of one of the largest business conglomerates, failed to scale. It failed to meet its first month internal target of $200 million in gross sales and reported underwhelming customer experiences over time. Sauvik Banerjjee, founding member and CTO of Tata Neu, resigned just four months after the app's launch. Recently, according to reports, Tata group is planning to inject an additional sum into Tata Neu: The super-app from the group seamlessly blends product commerce, service commerce, and financial services into a consumer-first, future-ready, integrated experience. From fashion to finance, gadgets to groceries, hotels to health, and tech to travel, Tata Neu brings together diverse offerings, combining the power of various consumer brands of the Tata Group to deliver a superior experience. The super-app also offers a suite of financial offerings including UPI, bill payments, loans, and insurance.

Over the years, different players such as Hike Messenger, Reliance Jio, Amazon, Ola, among others tried their luck in super-apps, but failed to level-up as the space needs improvement. "The specific needs for consumers for say ticket bookings, vs. travel, vs. e-commerce vs. chat are very different. These needs are being well served by specific popular apps in each category. So, the 'need' or a 'burning platform' for consumers to switch doesn't exist. These apps have created a large user base by spending huge spends on marketing, customer acquisition costs, deep discounts over years. Thus, the cost of a new app to acquire these customers is very high and becomes a daunting task for a new entrant. Even for existing apps, to enter newer categories requires significant CAC, a true differentiator: Convenience of a single app doesn't work," said Shaveen Garg, managing director and partner, BCG, a consultant firm.

In China and other markets, these super apps were 'first' before the niche apps could fully become prevalent. "So, it is also a matter of timing and coming in as a late entrant, the market is a tough nut to crack," Garg explained.

The Indian market needs to understand and discover a latent need for customers which is currently not being served by existing apps. "There needs to be a proper solid value proposition for customers. When it comes to customer needs, there are some table stakes – cool factors which are powerful enough for consumers to switch. There is a need to invest in deep design capabilities for providing those features. The 'me-too' app formats or 'cut-copy-paste formula' for designing these super apps will likely not work. Providing multiple categories on a single platform is not an easy task – comes with its natural complexity. That conundrum needs to be solved by super apps," he said.

In the near future, will these be a success in India? It is hard to win this battle by only pumping huge marketing and customer acquisition costs. "The costs can almost kill the business. Active productive and efficient marketing techniques need to be deployed. There are many examples of digital businesses which have expanded with frugal, efficient marketing spend – including paid spends but also organic marketing. For this, the right measurement of return on marketing must be established – which in itself needs strong data, analytics and test and learn capabilities in the organization," added Garg.

India is a very large market where there is typically space for more than one player. While digital penetration is already high, it has not peaked by any stretch of imagination or benchmarks. "The right combination of idea, design, and execution is crucial to make it a success. It is not easy – but not impossible!" he quipped.

Shrabona Ghosh


A journalist with a cosmopolitan mindset. I lead a project called 'Corporate Innovations' wherein I cover corporates across verticals and try to tell stories on innovations. Apart from this, I write industry pieces on FMCGs, auto, aviation, 5G and defense. 
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