Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron once described Indian-British relations as the “New Special Relationship”. Post-Brexit, this relationship is expected to strengthen since India – currently the third largest foreign investor into the UK behind the US and China – is among our most vital non-EU overseas trading partners.

Doing business in India has long been considered problematic for UK companies, mainly due to geographical distance and complicated red tape.

A loyalty to traditional modes of dress among older Indians has also hindered the growth of Western clothing brands. But with an impressive economic growth rate, accompanied by a young, burgeoning middle class, India is increasingly on the radar of British businesses as they wake up to the country’s huge potential.

And the good news is that a large number of Indian consumers already have a predilection for, and a familiarity with, British brands and products – perhaps a trait that goes back to when India was a part of the British Empire.

Shoppers in an Indian mall

Quality appeal

Global research carried out in 2018 by Barclays Corporate Banking found that 64% of Indian consumers said they would pay more for goods made in the UK because they believe the quality to be higher.

British luxury brands currently present in India include Paul Smith and Burberry, while established High Street brands such as Next and Debenhams have also entered Indian shopping malls in the past 12 years.

This year British retailer Marks & Spencer, which launched in India in 2001, opened two new stores in the cities of Chennai and Hyderabad, bringing its total number of Indian branches to 76. India is now the company’s second largest market after the UK. In 2014 Tesco became the first foreign supermarket to enter the country and now has around a dozen stores.

There are also many bilateral trade agreements between the two nations designed to strengthen ties. In 2017 the High Commission of India in the UK, supported by the UK India Business Council, announced the Access India programme, a scheme set up to help many more UK SMEs (Small to Medium Enterprises) export to India.

Not only will this help them survive, they could even thrive in a post-Brexit climate.

What took the UK so long?

Brexit and bureaucratic red tape aside, it raises the question of why UK businesses haven’t been more pro-active in trying to do business in India – especially in the digital marketplace.

India is slowly emerging from a cash-dominated economy and British businesses can capitalise on this

One reason might be that until recently India was a cash-dominated society. According to a 2018 World Bank report, 190 million adult Indians do not have bank accounts. And even among those who do, many are poor and illiterate, with no access to Internet banking or credit cards. But this is expected to change, with the government encouraging people to spend digitally, and a larger percentage of the population gaining online access.

Last year it was reported that India has 460 million internet users, second only to China. By 2021, there is expected to be around 635.8 million active users.

Communicating with the Indian market

A continent-sized country with a population of 1.3 billion, India is perhaps the most culturally diverse nation in the world. A person from Kerala in the south and someone from Punjab in the north would have as much – or little – in common as two Europeans from Portugal and Norway.

Doing business in India therefore requires local knowledge, especially online. This is where a native’s expertise in translation, localisation and international SEO is essential.

But in which language?

As well as being culturally diverse, India is second only to Papua New Guinea as the most linguistically diverse country in the world, with 780 languages spoken by its citizens and no official national language (under the Indian Constitution none is afforded such status).

Such a statistic might be off-putting for the most determined of exporters but it shouldn’t be.

Hindi is the most commonly spoken language in India, with 322 million people claiming it as their mother tongue and 270 million as a second language.

Time for businesses to 'do the needful'

Meanwhile an estimated 200 million Indians speak a good standard of English as a second language. Therefore for any British company targeting the Indian market for the first time, Hindi would be a good place to start, along with English. Or rather Indian-English.

Although it’s an understatement to say that UK-English and Indian-English are mutually intelligible (they are as similar as UK-English and American-English), there are many differences, notably in the Indian numbering system, which uses the terms ‘crore’ (a unit of ten million) and ‘lakh’ (a hundred million).

Indian-English also uses some words and phrases which may sound archaic in the UK, such as “Please do the needful” (Pease do what is required) and the rather chivalrous-sounding “What is your good name?” (rather than simply, what is your name?).

If you really want to focus on one area of India, you need to find out what the main local language is. In the state of Gujarat, for example, Gujarati is the main language with its own script.

Getting a foothold in India

As well as Hindi, which is India’s most commonly spoken language, Wolfestone translates the following Indian languages: Gujarati, Bengali, Telegu, Punjabi, Marati and Kannada.

We take pride in delivering complete customer satisfaction. Whether you’re a multinational or an SME, our team will create a tailor-made solution to help you do business in India and beyond.

For all your Indian language service needs, get in touch with us today.