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Phy-gital Malls: A powerful arrow in the shopping mall quiver

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Sandeep Kumar
Sandeep Kumar
A multimedia journalist with over eleven years of experience in print and digital media, Sandeep Kumar is assistant editor with Images Group. Books, retail, sports and cinema are an inextricable part of his life.

The word Phy-gital is not new for the Indian retail and shopping mall industry anymore. Every shopping mall is trying to go Omnichannel, upgrade its technology and provide its customers with the ultimate high-tech, experiential retail platform.

Despite the meteoric rise of e-commerce in India, the growth in the number of malls has not slowed down. New shopping centres are on the rise and the mall culture in the country is witnessing a boom like never before. The credit, in an ironical twist, goes to the rise in Internet subscribers, new fashion and shopping trends on social media. Changing lifestyles and increase in disposable incomes have also transformed the rural and urban consumer bases alike.

Malls today are not just a huge complex housing top brands, but also community hubs, experiential centers people visit to eat, shop and be entertained.

To bring in more visitors, malls, brands, retailers and especially new businesses need to bleed the physical into the digital and create a Phy-gital eco-system between the brand and consumer – across platforms. This is especially necessary because the evolved and connected consumer today is not loyal to any platform in particular. Giving him/her all they need in one space is the need of the hour.

Towards this, mall developers are providing space to brands that are technologically equipped to handle customers and are providing quick and seamless experiences.

Staying Connected in Malls

Mall developers are making sure consumers stay connected as soon as they enter into the centre. Consumer’s mobile devices are automatically connected with the Wi-Fi of the mall, opening up a new channel of communication opens up between him, the mall operator and the retailer.

Developers have also installed digital screens the in shape of tabloids/smartphones in various areas in malls which act as sitemaps, giving exact store locations on every floor.

Along with this are smart tabs providing info-graphics, data entry via motion sensors, AI and VR technology, digital communication tools, bots like Kik Bot Shop, and voice-activated AI agents similar to Google Now and Amazon’s Alexa – malls are trying just about everything to make themselves advanced and equipped.

In a nutshell, mall operators and tenants are leveraging personalised digital ecologies when shoppers are either in or away from their centres. This avenue gives shoppers relevant information right from where to park the car to various offers and enticements like discounts, making the shopping experience personal, convenient and enjoyable.

And while malls are doing everything to make sure the visitor stays online in-mall, the flow of information has slowly but steadily transformed into a two-way street with tech-savvy Millennials open to sharing personal data via digital interaction in return for customised offers, discounted goods.

Phy-gital Malls of India

Every shopping mall today is either already Omnichannel or working towards digitalisation, introducing technologies and innovative services to stay ahead of the curve. In this rat race, where everyone claims to be the fi rst one to start the revolution, it is really difficult to ascertain who pioneered the Phy-gital movement of shopping malls.

Infiniti Mall, Mumbai developed an Omnichannel platform for their mall very early. They initially started with facility of ‘click-and-collect’ where the customer were able to block the product online for 24-hours, go to the store within those 24-hours, pay and immediately pick up the product and leave. The mall soon upgraded this service to paying online and having products home delivered. Infiniti has now developed a loyalty app where customers can win points and prizes in app while shopping at the mall.

Then there is LuLu Mall, Kochi. The mall has its own Li-Fi – similar to Wi-Fi but using signals through mall lights. The lights of the mall pass signals to customer’s mobile phones which in turn inform retailers about their exact presence in the shopping mall. Retailers then prompt customers with alluring offers. Aside from this, the mall provides advanced technological services like geo-fencing, beacon technology and ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) where they identify the customers from the moment they enter the mall. The technology helps in recognising number plates of cars and keeping track of visitors. This leads to a database of the loyal customers who visit the mall on a regular basis. As the mall further interacts with them, these loyal consumers get real time information, updates and offers.

DLF Cyber Hub offered a unique AI-based ‘Phy-gital’ experience with Huber, a virtual concierge, where shoppers can talk to Huber to fi nd out about the next event, navigate through physical space while adding to the ‘discoverability’ of available brands and experiences, reserve a table, check out menus, etc. During the conversation, Huber gets to know about the customer and can make personalised recommendations. They have also introduced India’s first ever retail Phy-gital application ‘Lukout’, a one-stop solution offering highly personalised proximity based engaging content in terms of latest looks, latest trends, real time location-based offers while providing conveniences like one-touch parking payment, one-touch valet, one-touch concierge along with having its own social network for millions of consumers. It is a disruptive platform for the retailers to enable channel-based consumer targeting and further allows brands to host their virtual stores’ fronts to enhance discoverability and device proximity campaigns to target consumers via big-data powered analytics dashboards.

Express Avenue Mall, Chennai has installed ‘Digital Directories’ at each floor mapping the entire mall. They also have introduced self-service kiosks at the foodcourt to eliminate the demanding task of standing in queues while ordering food.

Inorbit Malls is taking keen initiatives to use social media platforms to aid discovery and reach relevant customers. Naviin Ibhrampurkar – Marketing Head, Inorbit Malls says, “Engagement is an evergreen growth strategy.

In the past year, we have seen an increased focus on digital engagement and experiential marketing. We are testing the Inorbit Chatbot right now which will help discovery and elevate the shopping experience.”


No stores with ordinary pick and carry services can sustain in today’s competitive environment, much less in shopping malls. As consumers choose to invest in experiences rather than products, retailers need to respond to meet the needs of their customers. Malls too want tenants who provide immersive experiences to visitors, which in turn increase revenues and footfalls in malls. Shopping malls look for tenants who make customers feel that an experience has been created especially for them, through the use of technology and digitalisation. This can be done through the utilisation of elements from previous visits, or design of products targeted at customers’ niche tastes. These unique experiences are critical to ensure the brand and the mall are remembered.

Over time, technology has transcended from an aspiration to an expectation and has wedged itself securely between consumer and experience to create an everyday interface.
High-tech retail experiences are the norm of the day, especially since customers’ attention spans and dwell time have both decreased. It is these experiences which drive people towards stores and ensure they leave not just with products while elevating the shopping experience above anything it’s previously been.

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