NEW DELHI: Rapid digital penetration in India will increase the number of connected consumers to 550 million in 2018 and their changing demographic profile is likely to affect future purchasing behaviour, a new report has concluded.

According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), significant change will take place over the next three years and this will present both opportunities and challenges for marketers and content providers.

Its report, entitled "Digital India: Insights for Marketers and Media Companies", predicts India's digital user base will include many more women, older generations and people living in rural areas.

Women accounted for 25% of digital consumers in 2013, but the proportion is expected to rise to a third in 2018. This will have an important bearing on Indian ecommerce because women control 44% of household spending.

Similarly, older users have more disposable income and their numbers are set to grow too. By 2018, more than half (54%) will be 25 years and older, up from 40% in 2013

Finally, there will be a significant shift in rural India with about half of all online consumers living in smaller towns and villages, as compared with 29% in 2013.

Rural users are also moving straight to mobile devices, the report found, and some 70% of them access the internet from their mobiles. Overall mobile connectivity in India is expected to grow to between 70% and 80% in 2018.

This changing digital landscape is also likely to pose challenges for content providers, especially TV companies, who risk losing out to online media, BCG said.

This is because it found that consumers who have been online for less than a year spend 30% of their time consuming media on their digital devices, but this rises to 42% among those who have been connected for more than five years.

Kanchan Samtani, a BCG partner and co-author of the report, warned print and TV companies to move quickly to ensure they maintain their relevance in the digital age.

"The question for publishers and electronic media companies alike is one of opportunity," she said. "Can publishers translate off-line print dominance into digital attraction? Can print and TV companies stake out digital territory?"

Data sourced from BCG; additional content by Warc staff