The Most Innovative and Unique Concepts in Indian Malls

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Most shopping centres today offer almost the same ambience and look and feel, so how do they distinguish themselves from each other? The answer: By offering unique concepts that exert a powerful pull on the customers to turn them into repeat visitors.

So what’s the difference between one shopping centre and the other? From a cursory look at the 250-odd shopping centres operating in the country, there does not seem to be too many, except size. But there are quite a few exceptions build around concepts that are truly unique.

Perhaps the most important unique concept is where the entire shopping centre itself is themed. The oldest example of this in the Indian context is the Gold Souk in Gurgaon, which opened way back in 2006. This 180,000 sq.ft. shopping centre has 11 international brands of jewellery, watches, and pens, more than 30 national jewellery retail brands and 30 regional jewellers. It also boasts of one of the highest rentals in the country. (The 300,000 sq.ft. Gold Souk at Jaipur did not really take off as a shopping centre and works more like a trading hub for jewellery exporters and wholesalers.)

The Aerens Gold Souk Group has also developed larger centres named Gold Souk Grande, a hybrid between a regular mall and a Gold Souk. The first Gold Souk Grande (about 550,000 sq.ft.) opened at Ludhiana in 2008, the second (about 500,000 sq.ft.) at Kochi last year, and the third (about 600,000 sq.ft.) is slated to open soon on the outskirts of Chennai. A fourth one is reportedly under construction at Indore, but it is not clear how much retail space this mega mixed-use development has. Early reports suggest the Ludhiana and Kochi centres are not doing as well as hoped. Only time will tell whether the hybrid model succeeds or not.

Another themed shopping centre is The Great Adventure Mall in Greater Noida. Its website and presentations claim that it is a 1.1 million sq.ft. development, and will comprise adventure sports such as reverse bungee jumping, zipline, zorbing, zero-gravity tunnels, hot-air balloons, archery, shooting range, paintball, sky venture, army obstacle course, dirt biking (hope the dirt doesn’t deter shoppers!), 4×4 drives, paragliding, rappelling, 9-hole golf putting range, and ice skating. It is also supposed to have an artificial beach (hope there’s enough water in Greater Noida!), helicopter joyrides, a New York Film Academy, a wax museum, and a five-star tented resort for pugmark adventure, among other features.

The opening of this mall a few months ago was full of not-so-happy adventures. A stuntman rappelling down a 60-foot building plunged to his death as people watched in horror while at the same time another stunt went wrong when a jeep carrying Bollywood actress Sayali Bhagat turned turtle during the inaugural event. Let us pray and hope that we do not hear about any more such incidents as the idea of such a shopping centre with so much of leisure and entertainment is not bad at all.

Some of the most successful large shopping centres (super-malls) worldwide have multiple attractions for kids and family. The West Edmonton Mall, Canada – with a GLA of 5.3 million sq.ft., 650+ shops, 100+ F&B outlets, nine attractions, and two hotels – is one of the most successful shopping centres in the world. It has six of the world’s largest attractions, including the largest indoor amusement park, largest indoor roller-coaster, largest indoor lake, largest indoor wavepool, and the largest indoor bungee tower.

The 4.38 million sq.ft. SM Mall of Asia, located 45 minutes from the CBD of Manila in Philippines, has one of the world’s biggest IMAX 3D screens, the largest ice skating rink in SE Asia, a sea-facing open-air Music Hall, a Science Discovery Center with a digital planetarium and wide range of technology/science-themed exhibits, a Life Clock (where visitors send e-mails to the future), Transportation Nation (which features the history and future of transportation), LEGO Mindstorms Robotics Center and Philippines’ largest private exhibition and convention center, with a capacity of 6,000 people. Mall of America in Minneapolis, USA, attracts 40 million annual visitors. There are 27 rides and attractions (including 3 roller coasters) in the 7 acre Nickelodeon Universe FEC located at its centre. Mall of America has a 4.54-million-litre Underwater Adventures Aquarium.

Another unique concept is open air malls or lifestyle centres, where the common areas are not “enclosed” air-conditioned spaces, but open air spaces where shoppers and visitors can experience the natural climate of the city. In the USA, almost 40 per cent of shopping centres are open air, and in Europe, it is now mandatory to build such centres for energy conservation.

The first such centre to open in India was the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall at Mulund, a suburb of Greater Mumbai. This centre has seen reasonable success and is currently on an expansion mode. The second such centre is the Charles Correa-designed City Centre at Salt Lake in Kolkata. The Kund at City Centre Salt Lake is a vast multi-stepped plaza designed with a central water body and a fountain. This area is used by visitors to sit, to idle or just for soaking in the atmosphere. The Kund is one reason why people spend a longer time at the centre … often they get up to buy something whereby casual interest is translated into an impulse purchase. The City Centre Salt Lake has seen even greater success than the Nirmal Lifestyle Mall.

The largest open-air mall in the country is currently under construction at Electronics City, a suburb of Bangalore with the highest per capita income, and is slated to open before Diwali of 2013. The Mall of Bangalore has a GLA of 1.2 million sq.ft. Perhaps the weather of Bangalore that remains pleasant nine months a year will do more justice to an open-air mall than the extreme weather of Mumbai or Kolkata. One advantage that open air malls offer retailers is much lower CAM charges.

Next, we move from the overall themed shopping centres to unique concepts that form a part of a shopping centre. The upcoming Grand Venezia in Greater Noida has Water World, a themed entertainment area with a 150,000 sq.ft. Aquarium, offering Mermaid Shows, Shark Feeding, an Underwater Tunnel, Coral Walk, Penguin Paradise, and a Reptile Park. This idea has been inspired from The Dubai Mall and Siam Paragon in Bangkok, and has been very successful in attracting footfalls at both those centres. The Dubai Aquarium and Underwater Zoo had 1.1 million visitors last year.

Grand Venezia also has an 80,000 sq.ft. indoor air-conditioned amusement park with roller coasters and other rides. The centre also has a themed area called The Village, which comprises a showcase of craftsmen and artisans from across India demonstrating their skills and culture, a selection of state-run emporiums, carts, kiosks, and mini pavilions of traditional Indian delicacies from across the country, from the chaiwalla to thupka, dhoklas to dosas, meenmoily to malai curry and more, a World Market which will have a range of ethnic merchandise from Tibetan tankhas to Balinese masks and Italian leather-ware to Turkish lace, a World Food Pavilion where one can sample delicacies from visiting food stalls from across the world.

If this ambitious plan is implemented properly, this shopping centre has the potential to become one of the most successful malls in North India. The Grand Venezia is themed in the Venetian style with canals and gondola rides, but a note of caution is needed here – this idea has been implemented in several other shopping centres around the world but has not really succeeded.

Perhaps one of the most successful entertainment concepts around the world is KidZania from Mexico. KidZania allows kids between the ages of 4 and 12 to do what comes naturally to them: role-playing by mimicking various activities that are traditionally performed by adults. As in the real world, children perform “jobs” and are either paid for their work or pay to shop or be entertained. The indoor theme park is in the shape of a city built to scale for children, complete with buildings, paved streets, vehicles, a functioning economy, and recognisable “establishments” sponsored and branded by leading multinational and local brands. From police officer to dentist to restaurateur, KidZania offers nearly 100 role-playing activities in more than 60 establishments in the “city” with a range of difficulty to meet the abilities and interests of every child.

Kids work to earn KidZos, KidZania’s own currency, so they can pay for goods and services in the KidZania city. Pilots navigate airplanes, television anchors read the news, police officers perform detective work, and chefs cook up tasty food. KidZania is a complete city with a hospital, fire station, beauty salon, bank, radio station, supermarket, television station, pizzeria, theater, and much more. At two-thirds their actual size, all facilities are designed to be “just right” for children.

KidZania’s first location opened in Santa Fe, Mexico, in September 1999. In its first year, it attracted nearly 800,000 visitors and, to date, some 10 million children have visited this flagship location. The second KidZania opened in 2006 in Monterrey, Mexico. The third opened in Tokyo in 2006. This location consistently draws sell-out crowds. KidZania Jakarta opened in 2007 with record-breaking attendance. In 2009, KidZania opened in Osaka and Lisbon and in 2010, at Dubai and Seoul. A total of 12 new locations are under development across the world, of which six are slated to open this year. KidZania Dubai had more than 600,000 visitors last year. India’s first KidZania will open next year at the R City mall in Ghatkopar, Mumbai, occupying about 70,000 sq.ft. in this centre’s second phase.

In another unique concept, the Ambience Mall in Gurgaon boasts of the country’s first 42,000 sq.ft. dedicated track for iRIDE, a fun and leisure concept based on the Segway Personal Transporter.

The newly opened Inorbit Mall at Pune will soon have a 5,500 sq.ft. ice skating rink and snow park – Arctic Circle – to be operated by EsselWorld. Many other shopping centres across the country already have or are putting up ice-skating rinks to attract visitors to their properties.

Roller Coasters – very popular inside malls across the world for several years – have now started appearing inside Indian malls as well. While the Ambience Mall at Vasant Kunj in Delhi and the Prozone mall in Aurangabad have small ones, the Infiniti-2 mall at Malad (West) in Mumbai offers a mid-sized roller coaster.

The Treasure Island mall in Indore, has introduced a unique “Teens Ka Adda” corner for teenagers where youngsters falling in the age bracket of 13 to 19 years can have fun with friends in their very own hangout space with no elders around. The exclusive zone offers several facilities and services for teenagers, such as Wi-Fi, music-on-demand, coffee shop, library, several games such as table tennis, air hockey and chess, as well as social networking opportunities.

The Comedy Store has been famous for its live stand-up comedy for 31 years now in the UK, where it has an outlet in London and another one in Manchester. Its third outlet (with a bar, diner, and café) has opened at the Palladium Mall in Mumbai, where it has international comedians performing from Thursdays to Sundays. It is turning out to be quite popular with patrons.

Another recent unique concept is taking the cinema-watching experience to a new level, which includes dining while watching a movie. The early movers have been PVR with its Director’s Cut cinema at Ambience Mall Vasant Kunj and Anil Ambani’s Big Cinemas with its 180° screen with recliner seats, Pause lounge and Cine Diner, all incorporated at its multiplex at the R City Mall in Ghatkopar, Mumbai. Satyam Cineplexes is also expected to launch some unique concepts at its 10-screen multiplex at the Mall of Bangalore.

The Ambience Mall at Vasant Kunj, Delhi, also boasts of India’s first Beer Cafe. You have to buy a “beer card” at the outlet, as this is the only currency accepted when you place a food order or pour yourself a glass of beer straight from eight self-service draught beer taps. Place your beer card on the tab and the screen shows you how many litres of which brand you can buy for the money in your card. The Beer Café also sells bottled beer from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands, and Japan. Your card can track the amount of beer you have consumed and rank it against that of other customers. Small eats are also available the outlet. There is also a popcorn-maker available, in case you feel like having some free popcorn with your beer.

Traditionally, Indians have been used to bargaining while shopping. But the fun of bargaining is missing in modern retail and therefore in the modern shopping centres. The Indian bazaar format is informal and built around a personalised shopkeeper-customer interaction. It is also much more pluralistic. On the other hand, the Western mall format is characterised by large retailers selling primarily branded products to segmented customers.

Most consumers in India still like to buy a vast range of products from the unorganised sector and the neighbourhood markets – this may include electronics accessories such as mobile-phone covers and chargers, pooja items, kitchen utensils, ethnic foods or their ingredients, and so on. Hence the creation of a bazaar as a mall within a mall. The objective behind creating a fusion between modern and traditional retail is to unleash the real energy of the typical marketplace. The first shopping centre to incorporate this concept was the City Centre Salt Lake at Kolkata. Upcoming centres with similar concept of a bazaar located inside a mall include the City Capital Mall at Hyderabad and the Sobha Global Mall at Bangalore.

A Banking Zone within a shopping mall, containing proper branches of several banks, is a very popular concept in South Africa as well as in Thailand. Even large malls in the UK usually have two to three banks inside them. The first Indian shopping centre to incorporate a full-fledged banking zone will be the 1.2 million sq.ft. Mall of Bangalore. This property has another unique concept – the Edutainment Zone – which will have play schools and other education or entertainment centres such as music academies, martial-arts schools, and language schools.

The Mantri Square mall at Bangalore was the first shopping centre in India to have several unique concepts such as a shoe-repair shop (Mr. Pronto), a Laundry (Fabric Spa), a Bag Care centre and even an emergency medical care centre (Fortis). Mr. Pronto has since also opened at The Forum Mall in Koramangala and The Forum Value Mall in Whitefield, both in Bangalore. It has also expanded to Delhi, apart from Chennai.

A unique retailer which has entered Indian shopping centres is CEX, a 20-year-old British retailer with 145 stores in the UK and 28 overseas stores in Spain, USA, Ireland, and India. CEX buys, sells, and exchanges a range of technology and entertainment products, including cell phones, video games, DVDs, Blu-ray movies, computers, digital electronics, TVs, and music CDs. CEX stores have opened at Market City Bangalore, Market City Pune, and Market City Kurla (Mumbai).

It is very rare to spot any activity at 5:40 am inside any shopping centre. The shop shutters are all down and the sweepers are yet to stride in. However, if you walk into Mumbai’s Inorbit Mall in Malad, you will find a group of 80 to 90 people on their morning walk on the mall’s 1,000-feet-long oval track. Some can even be seen doing Yoga. With very few parks left in Mumbai and the deplorable condition of its footpaths, the Inorbit mall offers a convenient option to people who live close by to take a stroll in the mornings.

The property also provides tea, lemonade, and other beverages to the morning walkers along with washroom facilities – all free of charge. The air-conditioning is not switched on so early in the day but the blowers are put on. The participants of the mall-walk have also formed a laughter club and a senior citizens’ club. In the US, thousands of citizens are registered in the “Mall Stars” walking club at the Mall of America. Other Indian malls are considering to offer this facility to build their goodwill amongst the catchment population.

It is often said by retail experts that the three most important factors for the success of a shopping centre are location, location, and location.  This is not necessarily true. The world’s largest fully operational mall (West Edmontom Mall) is located about 12 km away from downtown Edmonton. With a population of just 850,000, Edmonton is the 19th largest city in North America. Asia’s largest operational mall (SM Mall of Asia) is located 45 minutes away from Manila’s CBD. USA’s largest mall (Mall of America) is located 16 km from the downtown of that country’s 48th largest city and yet attracts 110,000 average daily footfalls. In today’s increasingly competitive environment, where most cities are experiencing an oversupply of modern shopping centres, it is these types of unique concepts that will keep a shopping centre from dying.


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