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Support services and their connection to a mall’s success

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Imagine if malls had to charge shoppers money each time they wanted to use the cloak room or avail of the drinking water facility… the very thought of it is absurd? Things like a clean and accessible washroom, drinking water, elevators in working condition and of course, security services are a given in all malls – for the malls and for the shoppers as well. Termed as ‘support services’, each mall today has some that run common across – be it a mall in a tier II town or a metro city. But with competition intensifying, it is the differentiation in these services that would give an edge to the malls over their competitors. Are malls in India doing enough in this space? Here’s a look…

Enhancing support services in malls
Washrooms, washrooms for the differently abled, water facility, information desk, strollers on demand etc are a few support services no malls can do without

Washrooms, washrooms for the differently-abled, water facility, information desk, strollers on demand and more are a few support services no malls can do without. Drawing inspiration from international malls, malls in India have started valet parking, shoes and bag repair services, hands-free shopping and many more services.

Sharing his views on the topic, Mall Head, , Vikas Shetty says, “If we were to talk about this a decade ago, at that time, we never believed or were unaware of providing any additional support service to visitors apart from parking and a few basic amenities. However, over a period, with professional mall managers coming into the scene, we have seen a huge transformation in terms of the support services that are given to the customers. With such fierce competition in the industry and with little differentiation with brand mix within the centers, malls have come up newer ways to increase the footfall. Of this developing and adding support services is one of the important aspects, as this tends to last more in the minds of customers. I also believe that a wide array of support services act as a backbone in initiating customer connect and in turn resulting in better customer retention. The mall success story alternates between better brand mix and better customer service.”

Aptly explaining the need for support services, Director, – Gurgaon and Vasant Kunj, says, “Support services are the first experiential thing as they are the first point of contact for any mall visitor. The services incorporate parking, security, house-keeping, medical assistance, wi-fi, baby-care and many more. The quality of support services has a direct bearing on the happiness and leisure of the customers. It acts as a backbone upon which a consumer gets a wholesome experience.”

Reiterating the same and elaborating on the need to have services that resonate with the expectations of the shoppers, Managing Director, Retail Services – , says, “Support Services have become a major part in a mall’s image and plays a vital role in attracting footfalls. Facilities such as parking, security and housekeeping have evolved over the years to provide world class services to the customers. In fact, it can be said that support services are the backbone for any shopping mall. Moreover as there has been growing popularity of e-tailing, superlative experience and provision of outstanding facilities have become pertinent. As malls have become social destinations, they have developed into places that go beyond just plain shopping. Also, the expectations and aspirations of the consumers have increased over the years. The differentiating factors for the shopping malls today have become offer of integrated value added services and facilities.”

Senior VP, Operations at , adds, “Support services like housekeeping, parking and security are in fact the most important factors for sustaining customer loyalty. With brands proliferating across malls and high streets, the exclusivity of a brand mix which attracted customers to a particular mall is now a thing of the past. Customer today has many options with similar brand offerings but it is the hygiene, safety and parking ease which are the key intangible factors that pull the customer regularly to a particular mall. Add to this the innovation in marketing activities that engage and involve the customers and then you have what is called the experience. It is this experience today that customers seek.”

Senior Director – Head of Asset Services, India – , Satish Rajendran also says, “Since India is a maturing market for retail operations, support services were considered as a cost and was one area which was looked upon when it was to contain/ reduce CAM. Developers use to see cost of HK, security, parking all such other facilities/ amenities cost and part of intiating CAM and has nothing to do with value add. This was merely looked as unavoidable expense. But today the scene is very different…thanks to e-commerce, aware consumer behaviours, the market today demands survival of the fittest. And now one of the main differentiator is the support services malls offer. Today the scenario is fast changing, of late the importance of these services in regard to creating guest experience and attracting footfall has been realized and hence there is paradigm shift in the thought process of developers. Today equal importance is given to these support services by designing awarding cost package for these services, training is a regular feature, reward and recognitions program are designed, emphasis is laid on better promotions and engagements. Though realisation that professional mall management does not just manage facilities, but also advises owners in the design and efficiency of the malls and eliminates unnecessary expenses right at the construction phase, is yet to sink in.”

He points out that parking, security, housekeeping and facade, EHS, fire safety, pest control, IT support including footfall mapping, first-aid services, concierge, helpdesk, electro mechanicals are a few services that no mall developers should miss having.

Renjhen hits the bulls eye when he further states that the services which were considered value added few years back, are now the basic services which any mall should provide. According to him, the key support services include valet parking, pharmacy, shoe-repair, car wash, first aid, travel desk, rent-a-stroller, feeding room, privileged parking for women, handicap assistance, digital mall directories, currency exchange, cab service on call, and concierge desk among others.

For the support service providers, the task before them isn’t easy. What they need to ensure is that while they are on their toes in offering best possible solutions to their associates, they also need to keep in mind the budget and return on investment for the client.

Managing Partner, , Rajesh Pandit says, “Delivering facility services to the retailers requires particular skills and systems that meet the needs of a public access facility, maintain critical services that affect public safety and business success, all within a constant downward pressure on costs in a volatile retail environment. Footfall through a shopping centre is a key metric for service providers as the more shoppers there are, the more facilities need to be cleaned and the more waste is generated. Footfall at malls and shopping centres keeps changing and increasing and service providers have to adjust to this variation through the day and the seasons.”

According to Pandit, support services for malls and mall management is well developed in mature markets, like Australia, UK and USA. In India, it has been present for the past few years and with competition intensifying, mall managements have increasingly outsourced the function of mall management to professional agencies.

On the systems put in place at Pacific Mall, Tagore Garden, Centre Director for the Malls, talks about how technology has helped them serve their patrons better. Elaborating on the same, he shares, “We use cloud-based applications to empower teams to help them deliver higher productivity and effciency. This includes services like real time CSI and RSI management system, fit-out management application, automated daily sales report (ADSR), leasing and SOH inventory management, retailer analytics system and customer analytics, task and snag management application to name a few. Latest in technology and operational systems are one of the biggest enablers for us and we have deployed some of the latest innovative programs in technology such as the completely automated system for logging and tracking of complaints, use of advanced software for mall management and operations for tracking, audits and data management, centralized one point system to track consumption of all utilities throughout the mall.”

He further shares, “Being a premium high-end shopping and entertainment destination we have invested in state of the art security management service and surveillance systems and an international mall management company to help us maintain these high standards at mall. This involves continuous renovations and up-gradation of customer service areas to enhance customer experience, introduction of C1 (Customer First program) program to continuously train and groom on roll and out sourced staff to establish high standards in customer interaction and experience.”

THE NEED TO OUTSOURCE

The age old adage here… ‘Jack of all trades, master of none’ comes in action here. With shopping dynamics undergoing a change every single day in this digitised world, it is imperative for mall developers to understand and accept that they need to focus on their core competence of mall management and leave certain things in the hands of experts who best know their job. Support services would be one in the list. As Renjhen aptly explains, “Mall Management is a critical component for smooth functioning of shopping malls. Increasingly, there has been adoption of professional mall management services by the mall developers. As retail real estate sector move towards for more sophistication and maturity there is growing need for professional mall management service providers. In today’s dynamic market, it has now become imperative not only to manage shopping malls well, but also that the operational cost remains competitive so that the net returns are optimized. Therefore it is important to have an efficient and professional mall management practice so that all the aspects of the shopping mall are taken care of in an integrated manner.”

Pandit points out on the needs and the dynamics as seen in India stating, “Malls are public spaces where customers interact with the building facilities constantly. There is thus a very level of maintenance and up keep required to ensure that the quality of the customer experience does not drop as modern customers are very conscious about such aspects. While mall developers have expertise and competence in setting up and operating the assets, specialized skill set and experience are required to maintain the mall and this is where professional outsourced service providers bring in value to the mall operations. Since these firms have domain expertise in this area, they are able to enhance the life of the assets, reduce operating costs and improve service levels and hence outsourcing the facility management services is a win- win proposition for the developers. The acceptance of professional FM services is however not very high in the industry at the moment.”

Highlighting a reality that not many malls want to face, he further states, “While there is a fair degree of understanding of the need for experts to manage the support services, the situation on the ground is that these services are managed by in house teams in most malls. While the larger development are able to attract and train the staff in a professional manner or outsource the services to FM service providers resulting in a good service levels, majority of the mall owners do not look at support services as a key driver for increased footfalls.”

INTERNATIONAL INSPIRATION

With shoppers expecting world-class shopping experience, malls in the country have no option but to ensure that the experience they provide is not better atleast matches to what their shoppers would experience during their trips abroad. A lot many international malls according to Renjhen offer, lockers on rent, strollers on rent, guest service desks, mobile charging stations, print and copy centre, tour buses, Metro ticket machines, coupon books, pet stations, prayer rooms, post boxes, tourist cards, security escort etc. Picking up one from his list of favourites, he shares, “In my opinion, The Dubai Mall offers superlative services and facilities to the visitors. It is truly an international standard mall that caters specially to tourists from around the world. From personal shopping experience to tour buses to mobile charging stations to Metro ticket machines, it provides world-class services to the shoppers and the tourists alike. It is one of the most visited shopping and leisure destination in the world attracting over 92 million visitors in 2015. It is also home to one of the world’s largest aquariums and aquatic zoos and other such attractions that make it so popular.” At Infiiti, parking and house-keeping services have been outsourced.

ON THE WISHLIST

Enlisting the services he wanted to include, CEO, , Gaurang Agrawal shares, “I would be aiming at making provisions for valet parking, drop and pick up for senior citizens and transport drop for customers with heavy shopping bags.” On the wish-list for Kumar is a hassle free cashless transaction facility. He shares, “We want to offer best wallet and payment experience to our customers. We are going to tie-up with Freecharge for the same.” At Pacific Mall, Roopani is in process of creating an application that can provide the customers a plethora of services from single app on their mobile phone. These
would include:-

• Omnichannel shopping options for customer to shop online at any of the store at the mall and pick it up from the mall or have it delivered at their doorsteps. It not only assists the retailer to conduct business across multiple touch points but also provides seamless brand experience to the shopper.
• Customer loyalty program
• Customer-friendly parking app where a customer can pre-book their parking even before leaving for the mall and GPS based parking assistance for hassle free parking
• Hands Free Shopping
• Personal Shopper
• Personal Stylist

Bector talks about DLF Promenade, “Ours is quite a small mall when compared to others in the city and while we would love to offer many more services, we are restricted by non-availability of space to set up kiosks. We would be happy to have a personal shopper/ stylist service. It would be great to set up a kiosk where customers can come in and get advice from a personal shopper or stylist. Someone who can help them reach out to the best products according to their needs and save time wandering around the mall searching for the same. Another thing we want to offer is shopping bags storage/ hands-free shopping. A space for the customers to leave their shopping bags, which they can collect before going home and or use the service where the bags are delivered to the customer’s house. Then we want to offer tailoring services. Customers want to be able to take care of everything when they are at a mall. And this is one thing that customers would love to take care of at a place where they come regularly. Shoe and bag repair is another service that we want to offer.”

On Shetty’s wish-list there is – valet parking, vehicle service centre with fuel station, set of family washrooms, fashion consultants, concierge and travel desk, business center, pet care and grooming center, self driven automated carts for senior citizens and special citizens for in-mall commute, forex, digital city tour and directional directory, sanitary napkin dispensing machines, vanity kits, drivers washroom with sitting area, mobile app and working space with basic amenities.

Gehlot shares the things we has as part of his wishlist, “Services like bags and shoe repairing which already exists in Gurgaon Mall, will now be initiated in Vasant Kunj Mall, so that there is no reason for the haul in your shopping experience. Now don’t get weighed down by your shopping bags as the new addition in their services are: Hands-Free service, wherein you no longer need to carry your shopping bags all around. All the bags post shopping will be delivered to your car personally. One can already avail these services in Vasant Kunj Mall and soon will be available at Gurgaon mall also.”

TO CONCLUDE…

On a concluding note, Rajendran shares, “A well-managed mall which provides excellent experience to a guest will certainly leave a mark and will be a favourite for the end customer, for example even if guest has to wait for 10 minutes for valet parking, he will do so for he know that some excellent services awaits him inside and he would not mind investing that time, on the contrary if this wait is supplemented with poor standard of HK/Security, he/she will never return back and the mall will not be in his visit list. Hence services play very vital role in attracting footfall. What is important today is how a mall is following the principle of being a retailer- or shopper-friendly destination, providing superior ambience to its consumers and good facilities to its retailers. This is all that will make the difference and subsequently get more people to you.”