With digital disruption setting in, the future of malls and retailers is becoming unclear. However, malls can leverage technology, using it to give them a competitive advantage and to get ahead in the customer acquisition race.
Every 50 years or so, retailing has been undergoing disruption and consolidation. From dainty small shops to modern departmental stores, and then to malls with specialty stores, followed by the spread of discount chains to the likes of Walmart, Kmart, and now digital malls, there have been a lot of change.
Each wave of change has not eliminated what came before it, but instead reshaped the landscape by redefining business parameters and consumer expectations to new levels. The effort to embrace new customers, creating unique measures and strategies is not simply a retailer’s prerogative alone; malls too are innovating and coming up with new survival measure to combat competition.
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What malls want is delighted customers and performing retailers resulting in profits. But considering the polarized mall market in India today, only a few are able to achieve high levels of performance as the knowledge, effort and know-how to do so is not available and difficult to sustain.
“The phenomenon of increasing vacancies is witnessed in under-performing retail centres. Better managed malls have been on top of the game,” says CEO PPZ, Anand Sundaram.
“Given the paucity of social spaces in India, malls are the new magnets of footfalls which if tapped properly using digital technology can provide valuable customer insights akin to an e-commerce platform. Many shopping centres are now moving in this direction,” adds Associate Vice President, Marketing and Corporate Communications, Inorbit Malls Pvt Ltd, Puneet Varma.
“For any destination to run successfully, technology and data captured and analysed with the help of technology can do wonders for effective and efficient mall management. It can make physical shopping more interesting. It can help identify a customer, his needs, browsing easy through beacons or RFID tags,” says CEO ISHANYA & Housl!fe, Mahesh M.
Focus on Retaining Customers
How to capture a customer’s data, his demographic and psychographic profile, his shopping behaviour, connect with him regularly based on the data captured and engage him to bring him to your destination, are questions that can be answered scientifically, analytically and effectively through technology.
Additionally malls need to focus on another set of factors like nearly zero turn around time, smooth information flow across levels with point precision, quality and well maintained asset base with basics in place, a good mix of brands and offerings etc.
“It is proven, that today mall owners have realised that to survive in the long run they need to adapt to smart technology. They need to deploy technology which benefits the mall, the customers and the retailer,” says Puneet Varma.
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He further adds that it is very important to adapt to these changes and participate in the ever evolving customer journey by leveraging the digital technology to blend with the changing customer preferences and keeping the customer engaged by managing a mix which is unique to the physical world.
Sundaram says, “Any technological software or process installed has to result in customer benefit. Towards that effect, technology should be directed at enhancing delivery to exceed customer expectations.”
Technology helps monitor store performance, category performance and the centre performance all juxtaposed at the same time. More importantly, such information is readily available to the mall officers to enable a forward looking plan to enhance consumption and brand performance.
While standing in the mall, have you ever done Whatsapp shopping? That’s what consumers can do at Bengaluru Central Mall. They can send requirements through a Whatsapp message, get options and have the chosen product delivered to their doorstep.
Such advancement in digital technology is giving malls a fresh perspective to engage with retailers and customers in a way which can be rewarding in the long run. The need of the hour is a tool that analyses data but with the human touch of Jeeves.
Customized cloud based apps are available on smart phones, which help in managing multiple malls at once.
“Through the use of wifi Beacons and mobile apps, malls now have the power to customize the brand offers tailored to the choice of customers. Using location based targeting, it is now convenient for malls to identify their target customers and offer a loyalty/reward solution which is in line with customer expectations,” says Varma.
“We have applications which have human interface to capture customer profile and it helps us to translate it into effective implementation on ground. We are in the process of deploying a technology application that goes beyond product and service and early steps in the direction of knowledge leadership,” adds Mahesh M.
“The direction of our effort has been more to enhance productivity rather than save people costs. This has resulted in greatly enhancing the productivity of the members of the extended team which has in turn also helped us achieve flatter organisation structures,” says Sundaram.
“We are in the business of facilitating human interactions and we would like to use technology to further that. We use technology in a way that it blends and enhances the human efforts and reduces human error,” says Varma.
For DLF Mall of India, safety and security are the most important priority areas at the planning stage and are inbuilt into the architectural and training models.
MAPS technology is dramatically changing the way mall managers handle marketing display campaigns and maintenance cycles at malls. It empowers mall management teams to carry out large scale maintenance work, reach more marketing display spaces and update them more frequently, all this, at a reduced cost and # me to both the mall’s management and its stores.
Intelligent dashboards and reports point to the correlation between footfalls and customer spends on any day. Heat maps indicating which areas of the mall are performing and which need more attention make focusing on key areas easier. Even market shares of the footfall and customer consumption at the centre when compared to the key competition set of malls and retail centres is now quite easily done using applications.
Yield management analysis is another area that could greatly add to the profitability of malls where a closer study of the yields, vacancies and the potential can be culled out using such analytics.
“Yield management is integral to enhancing the business benefits of any organisation and more so in the case of a consumption market as a mall. The successful malls today are closely monitoring all their revenue producing areas, comparing the performance of each of such areas against market potential and constantly working along action plans to enhance such yields,” believes Sunadaram.
Innovations at Malls
“Given the category that we are into, we strongly feel that touch and feel is the most important factor to decide a high ticket purchase. So along with working hand in gloves with technology and its implementation, we work equally closely with more personalised interactions with our customers,” says Mahesh M.
Malls and retailers are jointly creating USPs to keep their visitors hooked. Right from festival-themed marketing activities, free parking, weekend bazaars, flea markets, or conducting summer camps and other entertainment activities, they are reinventing themselves and thinking out of the box to drive footfalls. Running active campaigns in the social media also forms an important part of their business strategy.
Mall owners feel that there are various challenges in online shopping like lack of touch and feel, visual differences between what you see and what we receive and most important lack of socially getting connected with people as you would experience in a physical space.
Inorbit mall has a balanced tenant mix, perfectly planned operations, consumer engagement through innovative marketing properties as well as excellent business relation with their retail partners.
“We believe in keeping the dialogue going on be it through the 300 days of marketing events all round the year or through our popular mobile app which gives every individual an ease to access the latest mall information, exciting brand offers etc from anywhere. We organize a mix of engagement activities like shopping offers, themed events, lucky draws, award winning social initiatives like Pink Power, celebrity visits etc to keep our customers engaged and feel connected with us,” says Varma.
Apart from the regular mall activities to bring quality footfalls to Ishanya, they also do targeted retailer based activity that help promote their sales. Ishanya’s second and third core Food & Beverage and differentiated Entertainment, bring in the right mix of customer to Ishanya with a high propensity to consume thus ensuring this category does well with some spill over in their core categories.
Ishanya mall has done fairly well with respect to brands and they too have performed well over the years. For some brands that need support, Ishanya team works in close co-ordination with their owners, marketing and operational heads and even the store teams to ensure that they get the right visibility and the correct mix of customers.
Managing malls is a very challenging business. Though the future of professionally managed malls in India looks bright as more and more consumers are willing to step out to experience and enjoy the physical space such as a shopping mall which provides a unique blend of shopping, dining and entertainment which the digital world lacks. Multiple channels of shopping have always existed and will continue to do so.
While technology will certainly help enhance productivity and efficiency of consumption markets, by themselves they are not likely to change the very social nature of a family that wishes to have a great out of home time.