Tips on building digital products for emerging markets

How do we define emerging markets? And how are these users different? Those are the questions Niaz Ahmed, co-founder of jobs marketplace Kormo, tackled when he spoke about the incredible opportunities for digital product developers in emerging markets.

More users are coming online in areas like Asia and Africa. In fact, there are one billion users in the two continents who are predicted to move towards smartphones over the next ten years. So with the expected demographic shifts in emerging market economies, shouldn’t we be trying to understand their goals and needs?

How emerging markets are developing

“Users aren’t mobile-first; they are mobile-only.” — Niaz Ahmed

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Many users rely on one phone, or even a shared phone, as their sole means of connecting to the internet. Other users may have two phones: one low-end and one high-end, and they need to share data easily between their devices. Shared phones require new privacy solutions, and for product developers, this poses an interesting challenge.

Audio and visual input is preferred

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People that are new to smartphones and other technologies aren’t accustomed to gestures like zooming on a touch screen. Product developers can provide onboarding training that helps with this, but it is essential to offer support that works best for the user.

Users in emerging markets also prefer audio or visual input for several reasons. Literacy levels are lower than other parts of the world, and keyboards in non-English regions are lacking.

By building visual interfaces, we can drive more user conversion in emerging markets than with textual cues. As we see YouTube rise to number one in countries like India, we can play to that shift, developing video tools for teaching gestures like tapping the screen to engage with our products.

Localization differences

Smartphones can be as cheap as $50, making them more accessible to people in emerging market economies. However, it often means users have low storage availability. To solve storage issues, users often delete apps, so based on this, we know a small app size is essential.

“We position our app by saying, if you delete two selfies, you can install our app.” -Niaz Ahmed

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Since users don’t often know what seven megabytes are, Niaz Ahmed reframes the size of his app in an understandable way by equating it to two selfies. This helps keep users active and prevents them from tossing other apps.

Another localization challenge is AI’s ability to understand linguistic differences. In India, people speak multiple languages, and often communicate using a combination of English and Hindi. However, chatbots have difficulty adapting when users code switch or combine languages.

Indonesian startup Wahyoo’s impressive example

Jakarta-based startup Wahyoo succeeds with building for emerging markets in many ways. It’s a food delivery service like Deliveroo or Uber Eats, with the goal of increasing users, building restaurant clientele, and optimizing supply chains.

However, Wahyoo’s success causes supply chain issues, as restaurants aren’t used to serving larger crowds. They fix this problem by using their delivery network to bring produce to restaurants and fill their supply gaps.

Wayhoo helps with digitization as well, offering online payments so restaurants receive money faster.

This startup is proving that now is a great time to conduct emerging market research to reveal exciting new product development opportunities.