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Indian Malls Selling Experiences: Taking CX to the next level

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In an era where digital is taking over all aspects of life, including retail, the pace at which e-commerce has been engaging customers is making brick-and-mortar stores re-evaluate their strategies. In order to stay relevant, malls and brands need to reinvent themselves, pulling in the consumer through the sheer power of experience.

Malls and stores are no longer places where shoppers go to buy latest products – they are about experiencing the brand, the unique concepts the mall has to offer. Brands find it to their advantage to open concept stores

Concept stores are becoming the norm of the day. Here, retailing of a highly curated selection of products is enveloped in a clear theme and is all about providing the consumer with a unique experience.

A Selling Concept

According to a definition given by Insider Trends, a concept store is a shop that sells a carefully curated and unique selection of products that connect to an overarching theme. Often, concept stores evoke a lifestyle that appeal to a specific target audience – they are inspirational. Handpicked products are pulled together from different brands and designers, and they usually span different lines, such as fashion, beauty and homewares. In addition, the display mixes these lines and products together in an attractive fashion.

Insider Trends further goes on to say that concept stores are about discovery and experience. So, the products and design tend to change regularly to keep telling that story in new and interesting ways.

While concept stores are designed to engage, they shouldn’t be confused with flagship stores. Creating multi-sensory shopping experiences, flagship stores combine aesthetic and interactive elements, making them a destination venue in their own right. Ultimately, flagships are primarily designed to strengthen brands, not to make money. However, the concept store is all about ROI, with many retailers using them to test the water before rolling out successful ideas across the highstreet. This is one reason concept stores are immensely popular with mall developers.

Apart from this, malls come up with their own unique retail concepts which can greatly enhance consumer experience by offering extra experiential elements such as a cafés, pop up stores or events, which help build a community around the lifestyle they embody.

The Need for a Unique Retail Concept

For retail to thrive and counter the e-commerce onslaught, malls, brands and retailers need to continually reinvent themselves. Towards this major retailers and brands have started following a local showrooming strategy whereby they focus more on experiences than in-store sales. Malls too focus more on concepts in a bid to attract consumers through not just touch and feel, but also through sheer experience.

Cut-throat competition can squeeze margins, and so mall developers today need a concept that is unique and compelling, something which makes the competition irrelevant. Retailers need use space effectively to connect with consumers, while using tech to enable sales, but there’s no one size fits all model to doing this well; it’s different for every brand. They need to implement this concept in such a way that a loyal customer base is created, and the quality should be so high that competition should be unable to execute the same idea. If a retailer is able to do this successfully, he has managed to create a concept store!

In a nutshell, concepts cultivate experiences that simply can’t be replicated on-line while boosting sales.

Take for example Nordstrom’s merchandise-free concept store which was launched in 2017. The department store giant’s concept store didn’t actually have any clothing in stock. Instead, Nordstrom Local – as it was christened – focuses on free consultations with personal stylists, who advise customers on what to buy and then have the merchandise brought in. The store also offers manicures, a glass of beer or wine, coldpressed juices and espressos, and a curbside pickup service.

Manhattan-based concept store Story takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store. This means that every few weeks there is a newly designed store and curated collection of merchandise, a new theme.

In India, stores like Jaipur Modern in – you guessed it – Jaipur, Cinnamon in Bengaluru and Ciclo Café in Gurugram give concept stores a completely different meaning. While Jaipur Modern and Cinnamon are housed in stylish, old bungalows with the former hosting the occasional art exhibit in its front yard and the other housing a quaint eatery in its courtyard, Ciclo Café is a haven for cycling enthusiasts – a popular name within hospitality and cycling circuits, it retails high-end cycles, along with delicious food.

Concepts like supermarket chain HyperCity’s self-checkout, cashier-less stores in Infosys’ Hyderabad campuses where customers are expected to check out the items they have purchased themselves, are also gaining popularity for the experience and of course, the shortening of shopping time since people don’t have to stand in queues to be billed. Here, customers can scan barcodes on products as they shop, generate an invoice and pay, and leave. Payment options include debit/ credit cards, net banking, mobile wallets and even UPI.

Unique Retail Concepts: What They Mean for Malls

For malls, in particular, bringing in unique retail concepts – in the form of stores or are of great value. According to a McKinsey study, malls need to move in a different direction, away from commoditised shopping experiences and toward a broadened value proposition for consumers. For malls, it is extremely important to differentiate consumer offering, with a focus on experience and convenience and concept stores are a great way to provide this differentiation.

The McKinsey study further states that on the tenant mix front, innovative malls are strategically rethinking the types of stores that consumers will respond to. Anchor tenants that drive traffic are still key, but we also see a new emphasis on a curated mix of smaller stores that add a sense of novelty to the mall offering. Additionally, some malls are making greater use of temporary, flexible spaces that can accommodate different stores over time.

Innovative malls are incorporating value-added concepts and elements that attempt to recast the mall as new social and experiential hubs – these could be concepts like spas, fi tness clubs or even stores that provide the consumer with unparalleled experiences.

Staying Ahead of The Curve

One shopping centre which believes in the power of unique retail concepts is Select CITYWALK, a responsible, vibrant, upscale and cutting-edge shopping centre in the heart of Delhi leading the retail revolution and ‘happiness’ quotient for discerning shoppers of India since the last 11 years.

Select CITYWALK is a hub to more than 80 acclaimed international brands in India. Select CITYWALK has always been the preferred launch destination for several global brands wanting to foray into India. Some of the brands entered the shopping centre include Bath & Body Works, MAC, Gap, Muji, Sephora, Zara, H&M and many more.

Stores in the shopping centre remain open till 11 pm, and they also provide free home delivery services much to the delight of happy shoppers. Despite already being crowned as India’s best performing shopping centre by revenue per sq. ft. and sales per sq. ft., the Select CITYWALK management fi rmly believes that since malls are no longer just shopping destinations and are transforming into community hubs, they should be experience and event creators. With this as its focus, the mall developers strive to provide the consumers with the best of everything – curated culinary experiences, thematic decoration, shopping promotion, unique events, carnivals and more.

The Shop & Get digital video promotion celebrating the 10th Anniversary of Select CITYWALK received over 104K views, generated over 30K engagement across all platforms with a reach of over 3.79L. The anniversary celebrations generated 2L impressions on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.

“Apart from this, some innovative concepts which the mall has been engaged in to increase footfalls includes celebrations. From Diwali to Christmas, Valentine’s to Ganesh Chaturthi, every single event is meticulously planned and executed. Aiming to always make for a convenient shopping trip, the many varied services ensure that the shopper never feels the need to step out of the shopping centre for anything. The shopping centre goes that extra mile to serve something unique to the visitors through events such as Stationery @ Select CITYWALK, Cold Coffee Festival, Asian Hawkers Market, Chocolate Carnival, Waffle Festival, Pizza Festival and more,” says Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director and CEO, Select Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd.

At Gardens Galleria Mall, Noida it is the perfect blend of flagship stores and experiential retail that keeps drawing in the crowds. Their latest offering – VRUnreal, the fi rst ever Virtual Reality gaming zone in Delhi-NCR – is the newest concept which is bringing in incremental footfalls and in turn, driving brand recall for the mall.

The mall also houses a beautifully designed Starbucks, as well as Playbox, which is owned by Dubai-based Amusement Services International and is a wholesome play area where children can explore and engage in almost 80 different kinds of interactive activities. This play zone with a difference has become a massive draw for kids, bringing in huge footfalls to the mall.

“Being the mall that is known as the Social Hub of Delhi-NCR, Gardens Galleria & TGIP has been doing a lot to engage & attract customers to the mall. We always plan some or the other kind of activity every week that not only creates curiosity among the patrons of what is going to happen next but also helps in retaining them. Not just activities that involve customer participation is our key step but we also organize social events like performances by famous bands, celebrity visits, marathons etc. from time to time. Other than these events, we regularly organize Shopping fests, fashion shows for kids, men & women, club fi ghts partnering with the Knock out Club. Apart from this, we are very active on social media. We run contests & many other engaging contents that attract people,” says Pritika Nagpal, Associate Director – Marketing, Entertainment City.

Another mall which believes in not being just another shopping destination is Pacifi c Mall, Tagore Garden in New Delhi. The mall is no longer focused on just Big Box retail. They’ve moved on to bigger and better concepts to bring in the crowds including play zones, workshops, events, sales and even concerts.

Pacifi c Mall is also maximizingon digital technology in a bid to enhance customer engagement to stimulate footfalls and boostsales. The Zara and Lifestyle concept stores in the mall have seen unbelievable growth from the day they opened, with Lifestyle becoming the top performing store in the country, leaving competition far behind.

“At Pacifi c Customer engagement is one of the key tools that help us establish relationships with our customers and in turn increase brand loyalty and awareness. Pacifi c Mall has always given the highest preference to Customer Engagement and for us it is less about retailing, but more about creating personal experiences and celebration opportunities for the people who visit the Mall. Therefore we consciously try to create avenues and activities and campaigns that would take the ‘casual’ out of shopping and make it a more meaningful, engaging and eventful experience. Some activities are a part of annual campaigns and some activities are specially curated keeping in mind various festivals and important days,” says Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, Pacifi c India.

Some of the campaigns that are a part of these engagement activities include:

#EDIT YOU – Free Stylist Services: We have recently launched a Free Styling Services for our customers. These services are being offered by renowned stylist Vibhinta Verma and as part of these services we give free consultancies to our customers on topics such as Idle Style based on ones body shapes, Best Accessories that would suit you, Makeup and Grooming Tips, Festive Fashion tips , Colours for the season etc.

Live music and Concerts: You can enjoy your weekends with musical performances and live concerts at the Mall. ‘Pacific Unplugged’ on select Saturdays is aimed at entertaining customers with live musical performances by leading Indian artists and
troupes. This includes non-vocal band/ instrumental performance by professionals or live shows by artists from different fi elds including magical shows, jugglers, stand up comedians etc. Apart from that we encourage budding artists and singers by giving them a chance to perform in front of live audiences every Friday.

Queen’s Wednesday: Every Wednesday Pacific Mall organizes ‘Queen’s Wednesday’. It is a very popular and special initiative focused towards creating special activities, events and opportunities for women in order to make them feel special and pampered. Every Wednesday the mall lays out a bouquet of special activities, exhibitions, contests and discounts especially for women.

New Brands and Stores Launch: We constantly try to rejig the brand mix keeping in sync with the changing customer preferences. Some of the new brands that were a part of the line-up included Cover Story, Superdry, GAP, Armani Exchange, Mango, Hamleys, Nike, Asics, Lacoste and many more.

Rewards and Contests: Contests and celebrations marking special days are very regular at the Mall. The last contests were during Christmas & New Year. Where lucky winners got a family trip to Europe , during Pacific Mall’s Seventh Anniversary Celebration
the customers were presented gifts worth a million and during the last summer campaign we gave away Disney Land trip for a family. The awards and recognition at Pacifi c is not limited to customers only but also employees and retail staff. On the occasion of Mall’s anniversary, every year we identify top performing stores in various categories and reward the respective store team on the anniversary day with trophies and give-aways to boost retail staff’s morale so that they work even harder to perform better each year.

Kids Zone and Activities: We have special activities on an ongoing basis throughout the year for kids, be it summer vacation workshops, Scuba Diving lessons, Hobby Classes, Hot Wheels experience centre, DIY classes, Cartoon characters visit, etc to name a few.

Meanwhile at DLF Shopping Malls, customer visits are not limited to just shopping. The malls have accounted multiple entertainment channels to ensure the desired holistic experience a customer is looking for. They have incorporated a separate entertainment hub for kids such as Funcity; for people across age groups there is Ski India, movie theatres, etc. An ideal combination of food, hospitality, entertainment touch points and of course shopping helps in creating the holistic experience that will drive a customer to the mall.

DLF Emporio hosted various events and promotions throughout the year to appeal to our customers and excite their shoppers. Some of them were –

The DLF Emporio Luxury Shopping Festival: A month long shopping festival that gives our patrons the opportunity to win daily and weekly luxury gifts along with a month end mega prize on a minimum shopping amount.

The DLF Emporio Couture Weddings: Where they give registered guests the opportunity to get styled personally by leading celebrity stylists, makeup artists and designers.

The DLF Emporio Design Awards: A unique platform for budding young designers from Design schools and colleges across the country, to display their work and retail out of DLF Emporio through a pop-up store.

DLF Emporio L’Homme Luxury: An exclusive Menswear event with all International and Indian Menswear brands showcasing their latest offerings across the apparel and accessories categories with select guests and influencers as the audience.

“Luxury in its very essence thrives on exclusivity and personalized experiences. Technology, has proven to be a strong ally for the luxury brands and engagement with the audience has become more direct. We use the social and digital media to introduce disruptive content and creative campaigns to connect with our patrons, which leads to a direct impact on footfalls and sales,” says Dinaz Madhukar’s– EVP, DLF Luxury Retail & Hospitality.

Quest Mall in Kolkata has come up with one of the most unique retail concepts in all of the country, their Midnight Sale at Quest (MSQ) in the year 2015. The idea revolved around converting the longest day of the year – the summer solstice – into the longest one day shopping festival of the year in the history of offline retail with exciting discounts up to 50 percent across all brands.

MSQ has now become an exclusive property of Quest and shoppers eagerly wait for the event every year. We have found that our patrons keep waiting for our events to indulge in them as a festival and these events are becoming bigger every passing year. For an instance, MSQ has become bigger and we have been able to touch Rs 8.5 crore mark this year,” says Sanjeev Mehra, Vice President, Quest Properties India Ltd.

Other innovative concepts which the mall has been conducting to increase footfall include The Republic Day Sale, festive décor and celebrations.

For its third anniversary celebrations, Quest transformed the mall into a pop up night club for top customers, celebrities, brand leaders, important personalities of Kolkata. The elegant décor included LED mapping, disco balls, web-cage structure of cutwork fabric, black glass nylon curtains and a black & white acrylic dance floor. Food from a team of 35 chefs flew down right from different part of the country to serve the city with an array of exotic cuisine and entertainment by gravity defying aerial acts.

“We make it a point to regularly interact with patrons over social media and organize contests on a regular basis. For an instance, for one of our recent tie-ups with UBER, we gave away merchandise from Steve Madden to fi ve lucky winners. We also keep on experimenting with different events to wow our patrons,” says Mehra.

“To cater to the interest of all age groups, apart from F&B and entertainment, Quest has also created an exhibition space called The Loft which is a permanent area for pop-up art and culture,” he adds.

Ambuja Realty Development Limited which owns and operates City Centre Raipur came up with an extremely successful concept to draw in families, help them spend more time with each other. The mall has decided to celebrate every festival with aplomb for the communities that live in Raipur. Apart from Lohri Di Raat, Baisakhi Di Raat and Cheti Chand Mahotsav, various events for kids are also held, which include celebrations and friendly competitions, converting the mall into a much-loved community hub.

The mall also organises excellent concepts that bring in the youth including fashion shows, Hard Rock Band Competition, and college festivals.

Pramod Ranjan Dwivedi, Head – Group Real Estate Marketing & Customer Care, Ambuja Realty Development Limited, says, “These concepts boost brand image of the mall, bring in incremental footfalls and in turn up the sales of retailers in the mall during the period of the promotion.”

Inside City Centre Raipur you can fi nd many concept stores and areas including like Dessert Street, Dining Street, Kid’s Street, Bar Lounge, Valentine Cafe and Garden of Senses, among others. The timeless Indian concept of the Ghanta Ghar, natural daylight, water bodies, open spaces and extensive plantations have also been created in the mall which makes it completely different from any other in Central India.

Junction Mall Kolkata too has a history of putting together excellent events, which work to bring the community closer together, making the mall a complete family destination.

“The activities we conduct usually involve gratifi cation for the consumer, including several competitions, games, online contests,lucky draws etc., where customers stand a chance to win gifts, vouchers, free dinners at retail partners in the mall and much more. This concept of fulfi lment and gifting is a huge crowd puller. The rewards system ensures a loyal base is built to enjoy the unique retail concepts the mall has to offer,” says Arijit Chatterjee, COO of Junction Mall.

Some of the most successful concepts and campaigns which the mall has organized over include

Junction Jam: Clash of rock bands, Shopping Pujo: Durga Pujo Campaign, Bachaao: Shop MOre Save MOre campaign during EOSS and PoilaParbon: Bengali New Celebration.

“These campaigns added to our reach to new set of customer base every time apart from normal leap in terms of customer walk-ins, brand performances,” adds Chatterjee.

Viviana is the first mall in the country to have embraced the cause for the visually impaired. Viviana launched an audio-tactile labelling system and Braille menu cards at all restaurants and outlets of the mall. Thus offering a complete mall experience to the visually impaired. Viviana also provides shopping assistance to the blind by trained staff along with other facilities such as a tactile Braille Map, directory etc.

“We have something exciting for the consumers almost everyday for different categories and segments in the mall. We have shopping Tuesdays, Food Tasting day Workshop, Pet Adoption Show, on regular basis. We always try to surprise our customers with unique concepts. The idea is to grab their attention, excitement and make them happy. In each quarter we focus on creating such excitement. Bride and Bridegroom to be campaign, which was the part of the online wedding shopping festival, got international recognition was one of the best we did recently”, says Sunil Shroff, CEO, Viviana Mall.

“Most of these campaigns creates delighting factors for the existing customers and making our bonding very strong with them. It doubles the excitement among the buyers which impacts the business,” he further adds.

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