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Mall Developers to Break their Silence

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There are some issues in the Indian shopping centre industry that are still unaddressed, although the industry is growing rapidly. In order to be successful, mall developers should think over these and be ready with the answers.
In the shopping centre industry, having worked with hundreds of retailers at our malls, I am told spellbinding stories by them on various mall issues, just like vampire Betal used to narrate stories to king Vikram and ask him several questions in order to break his silence. There are many questions in the shopping centre industry of India that are unanswered. Let’s see if these questions can compel us to solve the puzzle.

Loss Prevention – Data Base?

Should we or shouldn’t we adopt this practice in India? After losing US$ 15 bn worth missing merchandise including wave of employee theft, US retailers prepared a mass database of workers accused of stealing and are now sharing this data amongst themselves to keep these workers from working in the retail industry again. The question is: “Can it be done fairly or will it be misused sometimes by coercing into getting confession when employee has done nothing wrong and lists could be so sweeping that even innocent employees can be harmed?”

Which Mall Today?

We have an in-house research wing to analyse and synthesise the demographics and psychographic of shoppers. One critical question we tried to answer is how shoppers choose one among many malls as first choice with sequential choice process. We found as a matter of fact that there is a competitive asymmetry between shopping malls; consumers first choose a shopping mall type and then a specific shopping mall belonging to this type: The choice depends on four variables: shopping mall image, travel cost, the first visit factor, and intertype competition, all of which relate to impact the competition between shopping malls and high street. However, the question is: “Do we have more robust process mapping as to how consumers’ decision-making styles relate to their shopping mall behaviour and their evaluations of different shopping malls?”

Trading Density at Malls?

Can we find out real “mall attractiveness” factors from the shoppers’ perspective beyond clichés such as comfort, entertainment, diversity, mall essence and convenience? We need a more deeper understanding of each profiled segment in terms of mall attractiveness attributes, demographics and shopping behaviour. Practical implications would be that identifying such mall attractiveness factors for a segmented market can help give a better understanding about patronage motives than when it is applied to the mall as a whole. The question is: “Is it practically possible to dissect such a diverse footfall and will this enable retail managers to develop appropriate retailing strategies to satisfy each segment?”

Mall Differentiation?

If we carry out non-parametric tests of many hypothesis regarding shopping centres similarity, we will observe that shopping in India has undergone a drastic transformation over the past two decades. Not only have the product ranges expanded, but the modest and non-descript bargain basement-type stores that characterised shopping districts in the past have given way to new thinking due to drastic changes in Indian shopping behaviour. Physical surroundings, crowdedness, location, lighting, and interior design are few of the evolved parameters that considerably affect the consumers’ emotional state and buying intention. Here the question is: “Can we really differentiate when we keep talking about good parking, better visibility, quality staff? I mean, who is not doing these things now? What actual differentiation can be seen and what impact has it made to the top and bottom line of tenants specially when same 200-odd leading brands are dominating every mall retail space?

Same Mall Tenant Mix for Week Days and Weekends?

We all work extensively on variety and quality of the tenant mix within a shopping centre as this determines the extent of externalities between outlets in the centre, the image of the centre and, as a result, the attractiveness of the centre for shoppers. This then translates into sales and rents. However, the management of tenant mix has largely been based on perceived optimum arrangements and industry thumb rules of assuming that same shoppers come every day be it weekdays or weekend and any hour of the day. The question is: “Can we model the impact of day of week or time of the day on tenant mix and the relationship between qualitative characteristics of each tenant, each retail product, and each shopping centre? Can results from this experimental analysis allow us to generate clear analytical and practical implications for optimal mall management? Through such a study, can we also test whether consumer choices of shopping strategy are dependent on contextual variables such as weekday vs. weekend vs. month-end shopping?

Shopping Mall Security?

To be commercially attractive, malls have had to inherently keep open areas with wide ranging access for retailers and shoppers and have been provided with sense of security and abundant car parking capacity. But looking at huge demand for grass root security guards across the country and almost no supply of trained personnel as per mall security requirement, many a times poor peasants are asked to wear uniforms and stand for 12 hours at a stretch or do double shifts with low salaries and no job security. The question here is: “Do we really expect that these security guards will exceed the expectation of shoppers?”

New Malls, New Streets?

If we watch the impact of growing congestion of shopping malls on shopping convenience and shopping behaviour, we can see that the cognitive attributes such as the ambience of shopping malls, assortment of stores, sales promotions and comparative economic gains in the malls attract higher customer traffic to the malls than high street. Including tier II cities, shopping malls are heralded as the new chaupals of the town – for many people they seem to be the new heart of public and social life. The question is: “Does this eventually mean a gradual decline of shopping at high streets and the rise of shopping malls?”

Young Trade, Young shopper, but Do We Have Young Marketing Mindset?

Growth in mobile usage and mobile transactions has exceeded just about everyone’s expectations. Yet many malls are only now discovering unique challenges as their customers have started pursuing all things mobile at escalating rates. The dizzying array of devices that have entered the mobile ecosystem are bringing unprecedented complexity to the MARCOM design process in particular. But it is truly an opportunity that must be seized with vigour and requires true innovation to be applied. It must be leveraged based on its own unique attributes and how the brand engages their customer lives into their product use. Question then is: “How many of us are doing it right?” Abandonment rates escalate with every second, with four-five seconds marking a precipitous drop-off. Adding to the pressure, shoppers increasingly expect mobile sites to offer the rich experiences and full functionality that they’ve grown accustomed to. So are we keeping pace with our virtual apps?”

Retail in Transition?

Do we crystal gaze in new emerging formats? As the industry struggles to get back in shape, the question is: “What shape will our primary customers, i.e., retailers and their new stores take? Will they require small-sized stores to have a better stock density and less cost? Or will new bigger units gain more ground? Will the tight budgets be the only factor or will the consumers yearning for convenience, attentive service and pleasant shopping environments trump economic imperatives in the new stores?”
And with this, I have played my humble role of Betal within the Indian shopping centre fraternity. Now it’s the turn of great emperors and kings like you to put on your thinking cap to seek practical solutions to our present-day challenges! All the best!

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