Blackstone Group, one of the world’s leading investment firms, forayed into India’s shopping centre sector with its fully-owned subsidiary, Nexus Malls last year. The aim of the Blackstone Group was to transform the shopping experience of Indian consumers. The management of Nexus Malls is upbeat about Indian Retail and is confident that they can be flagbearers of the much needed renaissance through fresh perspectives and innovations.
In conversation with IMAGES Retail Bureau, Jayen Naik, Vice President (Mall of Amritsar and Ahmedabad One), Nexus Malls, and Anil Malhotra, Executive Director, Elante Mall, talk about the innovations their malls have adopted and the roadmap for the future for Nexus Malls…
Tell us about your mall – the inception, and the challenges faced.
Jayen Naik: Our mall opened its doors to patrons in October 2011 and pretty soon became one of the most popular shopping destinations in Gujarat. Nexus Malls took over the asset in July 2016 and there came about a sea of changes, the first one being that our brand identity changed to Ahmedabad One. The retail mix was churned, and we brought in a lot of international fashion labels. Our process of transformation is not yet over, as we are working on more futuristic innovations and ideas.
Anil Malhotra: Since its inception in April 2013, Elante has emerged as the hub of the city by providing the right tenant and brand mix and constantly engaging its patrons with a plethora of exciting activities. The mall has made a mark as a leading shopping destination of the northern region, having introduced leading brands and retail chains like Hackett London, Vero Moda and Collective. We have emerged as the only mall in the region which can boast of 100 per cent occupancy. Spread over 1.2 million sq. ft., Elante has recorded a footfall of over 1 crore since its launch. This vibrant and upscale shopping hub is part of the overall 21.5-acre complex being developed as per the Government’s conversion policy.
Give us a lowdown on the innovations – tech and in-store in 2017, in Nexus Malls.
Jayen Naik: Over the last 18 months, we have upped our game in terms of the experience that we want to deliver to our patrons. We have conceptualised and executed several digital innovations at the mall and those were very well received by retailers and shoppers alike.
We were the first mall in Gujarat, and probably India, to host a full scale Augmented Reality show. The first day of the activity saw an organic reach of over a million on our Facebook fan page. We saw a surge in footfalls during that week and our social media pages were full of reactions and comments.
We followed it up with a Digital Pictionary, which we executed in association with Mattel. This was a special experiential event curated for the Children’s Day weekend where a mime artist played the game virtually, through an LED screen and gratified over 300 kids who participated over the two days.
Anil Malhotra: In terms of innovations to lure patrons, we have already pulled off a couple of great digital ideas – Digital Dussehra which garnered a reach of over 21 million. Now, we are gearing up for the End of Season Sale in January, and work is going on for an Augmented Reality app, which is going to be a first in India. Through this app, patrons will be able to pluck out offers and discounts from within the mall, using the camera on their phones. We are very optimistic about the application and will announce its launch dates in a couple of weeks.
Let’s talk about your CSR activities for 2017.
Jayen Naik: At Ahmedabad, we take up several causes across the calendar year. This year, we found a unique way to celebrate an eco-friendly Dussehra digitally. We executed the Digital Dussehra activity which was ideated and executed by us across five of our assets. We got a reach of 21 million across our five assets and we trended on Twitter for both the days of the activity. For every 50 times that the hashtag #GoodOverEvil was used, the Ravana burned digitally on the LED screens which were installed at the atrium of each of our assets. We gratified over 2,000 patrons across our five assets during the course of these two days.
Anil Malhotra: Taking up social causes is what we do at Elante Mall. It’s our way of spreading some cheer in the community. We celebrated Lohri 2017 at Elante in conjunction with an old age home in the city to bring some cheers into the lives of the inmates there. We celebrated the Independence Day to spread the message of ‘Equality in Society’ by involving 100 children, including 50 underprivileged kids and as many school students, to set up the map of India in the heart of the mall. Elante also took underprivileged children to Fun City, so they could experience something new and exciting.
Are you an eco-friendly mall?
Jayen Naik: The mall retained all the trees and plants that were on the periphery and surrounding the plot line of the facility when it was being constructed. Moreover, we created a complete tree cover by building our actual compound wall one meter inside the actual plot line – an area which is full of trees and green plantation and maintained by us.
We recycle water and use it for plantations across the facility as well as for cooling towers of the chillers. Conservation of water has been at the forefront of our commitment to the environment.
Recently we installed approximately 500 KW of solar power panels on our terrace to ensure further conservation of energy.
Anil Malhotra: During construction of the mall and the complex, we adhered to all the prescribed norms to make the building energy friendly. We have balanced all aspects of energy use in the building including lighting, space-conditioning and ventilation. Elante’s passive design features are well complemented by optimisation of power through energy-efficient equipment.
What according to you are the key elements that determine the success of a mall?
Jayen Naik: In my opinion, the success of the asset hugely depends on two things:
1) Retailer satisfaction;
2) Customer satisfaction.
Both play a very critical role in determining what an asset would mean to not just the immediate catchment, but for a city in general.
Consumers look to a mall for more than just shopping now and the onus is on us to give them a reason to spend time at our establishments and become the destination of choice for them. The more time that they spend at the mall, the more likely they are to spend here.
For retailers, it is important that we keep getting footfalls and repeat customers. When we plan events and activities at a mall, we need to ensure that retailers are roped in as active partners.
Anil Malhotra: What determines the success of a mall or a shopping centre is how well it is positioned keeping in view the customer profile in the catchment it wants to cater. The right size, the right location, the right aesthetics and the right tenant mix is what defines the right model.
Since the direct customers of malls are the retailers, it is imperative to rope in the right kind of retailers with suitable rentals that give them every opportunity to sustain their growth. This in turn ensures that customers who come to the mall have maximum options in all retail categories. In order to bring long term sustainability and growth, it is important to optimise occupancy cost through a transparent process and maintain a healthy relationship with all retailers. Last but not the least, more emphasis should be given to the look and feel of the store fronts, upkeep and maintenance, ease of access and exit, washroom standards, well thought out marketing strategies, quality events and promotions.
What is your mall doing in terms of innovation and customer centricity to keep consumers engaged?
Jayen Naik: We have over 300 days of events. This year, we have consciously tried to move away from events and activities which are noisy – give patrons a noise-free zone. We have already pulled off a few digital led ideas at Ahmedabad One and there are many more in the pipeline.
Anil Malhotra: At Elante, we take great pride in the innovations that we come up with throughout the year. We have something or the other happening at the mall every now and then. We constantly strive to innovate and provide a unique experience to our patrons every time they walk in to the mall.We recently executed a Digital Dussehra activity. We got a reach of 21 million across our five assets and we trended on Twitter and Facebook on both the days of the activity. For every 50 times that the #GoodOverEvil was used, the Ravana effigy burned digitally on the LED screens which were installed in the atrium of each of our assets.
Tell us about the phygital experience, personalisation, and intelligent technologies your shopping centre offers?
Jayen Naik: We run great events on our social media, making it a popular online engagement destination. We announce the arrival of new styles and products on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, to connect our tech savvy consumers with the brands at our mall. We were also among the first malls to be featured on the Google Maps. All these happen in tandem with connecting with patrons regularly via email and SMSs, informing them of our schemes and promotions. We were one of the first malls to have an active website and an app, which provides all details including navigation, offers, events, availability of specific products etc.
Apart from this, we use technology to calculate footfalls, hot areas and to collect customer flow data, which helps us in sharpening our services. We provide WiFi across our facility aside from a ton of other services to enhance customer experience.
Are you planning on going Omnichannel anytime soon?
Anil Malhotra: Omnichannel retailing is a market reality and it has to be embraced, but I feel that Indian customers take time to get accustomed to something new. It may take them two to three years to get used to this new fad. Malls, with the help of the available
technology, will play an active role in bridging the divide between offline and online retailing. We at Elante firmly believe that we need to take Omnichannelisation and digitisation seriously in order to stay relevant to our patrons, and we are working towards the same.
When you look for an area for your malls, what is the location strategy and why?
Jayen Naik: We like to be placed in the middle of a rich residential catchment. We were primarily touted as a neighbourhood city center so that the entire residential catchment within a 3-km radius would be able to use our facilities. This obviously gave a lot of fillip to initial footfalls. Easy accessibility, the relative safety of the location, hygiene and a good parking facility are other important things that we look at.
Anil Malhotra: Centrally located in Industrial Area, Chandigarh, Elante was set up as per the Government’s conversion policy. Though its location is an advantage, Elante has been successful in positioning itself as a ‘preferred and happening shopping destination’ on account of other factors like strong customer connect and right tenant mix. We have premium, value for money and luxury brands, which address the needs of all social classes.
Why is zoning important for a mall?
Jayen Naik: Formulating the right tenant mix based on zoning not only helps attract and retain shoppers by offering them multiple choices and satisfying multiple needs, but also facilitates the smooth movement of shoppers within the mall, avoiding clusters and bottlenecks. This helps influence shoppers’ mall preference and frequency of visits. It also helps in building a distinct image in the minds of shoppers, which is extremely critical.
Anil Malhotra: Coming up with the right tenant mix based on zoning not only helps attract and retain shoppers by off ering them multiple choices and satisfying multiple needs, but also facilitates the smooth movement of shoppers within the mall, avoiding cramming and bottlenecks. This helps influence shoppers’ mall preferences and frequency of visits. It also helps in building a distinct image of the mall in the minds of shoppers, which is extremely critical.
Why according to you, should brands choose malls instead of high streets?
Jayen Naik: I think the belief in the brand philosophy has to be strong. The proposition has to be undebatable. Being located in a mall or on high-streets is about individual budgetary choices. Both has its own set of pros and cons. But I strongly feel that brands do not get lost in the crowd in malls. Rather a strong backend support is in place in malls.
How much space should homegrown/ indigenous brands be given in a mall, as opposed to international brands, which have bigger budgets are more of crowd-pullers?
Jayen Naik: If you look at Ahmedabad One, every floor has a distinct character. We have not differentiated between international or indigenous brands. Each brand enjoys their share of limelight. Ultimately, it is quality that drives customer connect.
Anil Malhotra: At Elante, each floor is properly planned. We have not differentiated between international or indigenous brands. Each brand enjoys its share of limelight. Ultimately, it is quality that drives customer connect. Here, we have a lot of homegrown brands across retail categories as both franchise and company driven. We are specifically dominant in food and beverage and fashion, though we have a good presence in other segments too.
Elaborate on the importance of food courts and the role F&B plays in generating footfall in malls?
Jayen Naik: Gujarat is known for its affection for food and the inclination of people wanting to experiment with various types of cuisines. Knowing this fact, we have recently renovated our food court completely and gave it a very classy and upmarket feel. We have also added several new options in the food court. Additionally, we now also have a dedicated section for those who prefer non-vegetarian dishes. Since then, we have seen a sudden spike in the sales figures at our food court.
Anil Malhotra: Punjab is known for its love for food and the inclination of people to experiment with various types of cuisines. Familiar with these facts, we recently renovated our food court to give it a very classy and upmarket feel. We have also added several new options in the food court. Since we introduced a dedicated section for those who prefer non-vegetarian dishes, there has been a sharp spike in the sales figures at our food court.
Why are malls stressing on being Family Entertainment Centres?
Jayen Naik: In today’s time, shopping alone could lead to the downfall of an asset. Malls are no longer just shopping destinations, but they are more of community centres. The success of a mall hugely depends on how it caters to the people walking in. It is imperative that malls now cater to all age groups and they deliver a unique experience each time that they visit.
Anil Malhotra: In today’s time, shopping alone cannot prop up an asset. Malls are no longer just shopping destinations, but they are
more of community centres. The success of a mall hugely depends on how it caters to its visitors. It is imperative for malls to cater to all age groups and deliver a unique experience to them each time.
Do you think theme malls work in India?
Jayen Naik: Though at present only Big Box Malls – with their full array of shopping, entertainment and food – have been successful, the concept of boutique and theme malls is slowly starting to take shape. Given the dynamism in the youth of today, the mall developer community is confi dent that theme malls will be a great hit in the future. Cyber Hub in Gurugram, which is pure F&B mall, is a successful example of a theme mall.
What is the future of real estate in India?
Anil Malhotra: Being a sunrise sector, the mall space has grown rapidly in the last 10 years. Malls have established themselves as a must-visit destination for families and friends. They have enhanced not only the shopping experience but also the employment, trade and infrastructure development in all locations where they are present, so in my opinion, the future is very bright. This is just the beginning of the mall era.
What does the future of retail hold for the malls of tomorrow?
Jayen Naik: Retail in India is still in a very nascent stage. In terms of shopping habits, I feel India is still very traditional in nature and consumers will take time getting used to online shopping. Malls are very much in the present and future of Indian shopping.