At ISCF, customer emerges as king

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Consumer needs and interests still rule the roost in the shopping centre industry. Giving utmost priority to consumer behaviours and perspectives towards malls, the ongoing India Shopping Centre Forum ’10 (ISCF), with stalwarts from the industry, debated on ways to develop shopper-centric malls, focusing on the consumer needs by understanding their spending patterns and the differences in consumers in tier-I and II cities.

One of the eminent panelists, Anand Raghuraman, partner and director, The Boston Consulting Group, observed, “Initially, malls were merely a collection of stores, but now the concept of shopping centres has evolved as a new retail space. Undoubtedly, they have become social hubs. As far as tier-II and III cities are concerned, they should have the appeal of the ‘town hall’ in order to become more relevant to the local crowd.”

Asitava Sen, director, Business Consulting Services, The Nielsen Company (India), pointed out, “The problem in India is the fact that retail lacks innovation. Too many people are trying to do the same thing and at the same time.” Fuelling the debate, as an international expert, Dr Sumas Wongsunopparat, EVP, Corporate Strategy Office, Central Pattana, Thailand, said, “We open malls every quarter. For us, customers always remain the top line while the format, retail mix, tenant selections, merchandise classification and the likes come later. We also study the cross-section of consumers walking into our malls. The ones coming in during the weekdays, maybe house wives, retired people and the likes, as opposed to the young office goers who might show up during the weekends more. So, according to the difference in the profiles, we try to modify and innovate our shopping centre spaces. ”

From the retailer’s perspective, Dilip Kapoor, MD, Hidesign, said, “For me tenant mix in a mall is very important. I want to know the brands that will be present in the vicinity of Hidesign. This factor will ensure, to a great extent, that I get the right consumers to walk into my store.”

Taking the discussion forward and quoting the example of Reebok and Benetton, V P Harris, MD, Witco, felt that if the model was correct, more than one store from the same brand within the same mall could do well.

On the basis of his research findings, Vivek Kumar, MD, IRIS Retail, said, “It is interesting how 90 per cent of the times a consumer might end up buying brand ‘Y’ instead of brand ‘X’ that he or she had set out for, due to impulse buying. Thus, the mall experience becomes more important and the emphasis should be on creating interesting ‘hang out zones’ within shopping centres.”

Putting forward interesting questions to the panelists all through the discussion, Tarun Joshi, director, Crew Republic Retail, summed up the key points that the panelists had shared in the course of their discussion. He emphasised that the core competence is very important for any shopping centre to do well. The location, store mix and promotional buzz about it are important but it is the consumer requirements that need to have top priority.

— Sayanti Banerjee

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