Malls: From shopping centres to experience centres

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Keeping a shopping centre or a mall alive takes lot of effort, process, management and above all, a deep understanding of consumers. The relevance and connect to consumer is paramount. Products and services, which are relevant to the customer are thriving and which are non-relevant to the customer, obsolete.
Managing and running a mall is becoming extremely competitive and challenging in today’s day and age. But are a right location and major anchors enough to run a mall successfully for the next 10 years or more? Dynamic consumer trends, increase in spend propensity and proliferation of technology is constantly changing the relevance of malls to consumers.
F&B and Entertainment: In urban India, malls are the preferred choice for Out of Home time (OHT). As per an internal survey by Pioneer Property Zone, 65 per cent of the people who enter a mall enter with the objective of spending quality time with family.
Whilst e-commerce may be taking the wallet share from brick-and-mortar, OHT is something they cannot compete against. F&B and Entertainment are key ingredients of OHT. Going high on these can be the big differentiator for malls.
In most of malls across the country, the share of F&B is around 8-10 per cent of carpet area. This is very low real estate to offer a substantial variety to the 65 – 80 per cent of the footfall.
Malls are learning from this mistake and places like DLF CyberHub, Gurgaon, Epicuria, and Delhi Specialty Retail have cropped up offering exclusive F&B and E options.
There is a huge gap in customer expectations and the F&B and E choices that they have at these malls. Sparsity of quality local brands that has led to most food courts offering roughly the same brands with a little change. It is a need for newer malls and existing malls to revamp the approach to food court offering, size and design. An eye catching feature in the design is an effective way of evoking curiosity in the customers to visit and revisit the food court. Adding kiosks and getting variety in different zones and areas of the mall can be ease of access much appreciated by the customer.
In the past, Family Entertainment Zones (FEC) were a multiplex and concession games comprising of 15-20 per cent of the carpet area.
Today 50 per cent of the Indian population is under 30 years and 65 per cent is under 35 years. Majority of the youth believe in nuclear family and have high disposable income. This has given birth to HENRY (High Earners Not Rich Yet) and they are the prime focus.
New experiences will attract youth. Experiential tenancies as F&B and E need to be higher at centres to deliver a superior or enhanced experience. Malls have to incorporate spaces for adventure games, go-karting, indoor sports, remote-controlled toy racing and 360-degree virtual gaming.
Take for example the Virginia Mall in Bangalore, which is all set to become an entertainment destination for Bangalore offering state of the art entertainment and gaming options.
Processes & Internal Marketing: Malls claim to thrive on footfalls month-after-month. A learning from the manufacturing is that to excel at anything that is repetitive, we need to have robust processes. Also these services have to be relevant with the catchment area.
Malls usually see high footfalls during weekends against weekdays. To capitalise on weekdays malls should be in synergy with the neighbourhood.
Management needs tremendous process orientation towards delivery of enhanced experience to the very large footfalls that they experience.
Malls managed by Pioneer Property Zone are running service initiative “C1” which is “Customer First” initiative – a comprehensive package of such services carefully designed and customised to the malls. Catering to all consumer needs as valet parking, free Wi-Fi, mother care, Loyalty programmes, transportation arrangement, shopping consultants, navigation assistance, concierge services etc.
The C1 programme spells out clearly what needs to be done by who across dimensions as contact point, people empowerment, feed-back & continuous monitoring.
Clout of Technology: India has population of 1.2 billion of which 590 million use a mobile phone. The country will cross the 200 million smartphone users’ mark by the end of 2016, overtaking the US to become the second largest market for smartphones. These numbers are eye openers and present a compelling argument to leverage technology in business.
Retailers and Mall developers are adapting to new technologies and social platforms to create awareness, unique and customised experiences and ease of shop. Use of technology will not be limited only to end consumer as social media and driving consumption but also it will be significantly used for mall operations.
The average number of employees across the mall are 200-250 of which 80 per cent are equipped with modern phones. These people are the first touch points for the customer. Using technology to enable this army to serve customer will bring great heights of customer service and resolve customer query at any place in the mall.
The logical step therefore, is to use this tool for empowerment. Customer Surveys are happening on the iPad and smartphones. This is quicker for both the customer as well as easier for the survey-taker to capture details. Customer profiling is now more important than ever.
These details are being segregated and analysed to generate consumer trends for each centre. Issue capturing becomes very easy with use of software like Aconex. Any issue being captured is immediately notified facilitating faster information flow and closing it. This gives an uninterrupted customer experience at an asset that is better maintained.
At the end of the day malls have to take care of internal clients (that is: the retailers) and external clients (the end consumer). Use of technology in serving the best to both the clients will is pivotal. In summary, it is easy to walk the talk of creating superior customer experience for memorable family time at malls.
The management teams need to judiciously design and implement a full strategy along three key levers of experience led tenancies (F&B and E), holistic process roll-out and empowering those who work for the mall by use of technology. In fact, considering the nascency of the industry in the country and adoption of affordable technology, we in India are uniquely poised to leap frog over similar processes across the world and establish new benchmarks.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Anand Sundaram is CEO of  Pioneer Property Zone. The views and ideas expressed in this article are his own.

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