The Indian retail real estate market is hugely influence by the West and hence, it won’t be wrong to say that the shopping mall culture in India is a gift from the West. The design of the mall, events organised by the mall, zoning – retail, dining, entertainment, play areas, activity zones – are all inspired by malls in American and European markets. When studying malls in terms of themes, technology and digitalisation, India look towards the West in a bid to understand, learn and implement similar ideas in malls in India.
One great idea which India took from the west and moulded according to Indian consumer demands, was the ‘concept store’.
What are Concept Stores?
In layman terms, a concept store is a store which offers something unique, aside from just bring an outlet which sells items. They are stores which surprise the customer and grab his attention using the façade, the theme, the visual appearance, the lighting, ambiance and even the products.
They make their consumers curious by acting as inspirational spaces where one can discover new products and places making it an aspirational lifestyle platform.
The concept store is, by definition, a place where new ideas are put together in a bid to enhance the shopper experience and sell more products. In addition, many concept stores offer experimental elements such as a café or exhibition space, enhancing their appeal to those shoppers seeking a particular lifestyle.
With the explosion of e-commerce on the retail scene, malls are improvising to rake in the footfalls by re-imagining and re-engineering themselves as ‘Consumer Engagement Spaces’. They are investing in experiential retail through the introduction of concept stores.
The traditional Indian concept store is a shop that sells a carefully curated selection of products that connect to an over-arching theme, philosophy or lifestyle. Usually, these stores have a certain target audience and mostly they handpick the products on sale from multiple brands and designers based on what might appeal.
Concept stores have all sorts of different lines from fashion to homeware, so that customers can adopt the lifestyle in an all encompassing way. Most brands in shopping malls prefer lifestyle concept stores, which are usually natural extensions of the brand. Meanwhile, concept stores with a message for society can be found more commonly on high streets.
Role of Concept Store in Malls
Concept stores are still in an experiential stage in India. Some brands are experimenting by dedicating a small area of the shop to put up a theme-based conceptual display with different lighting and visual effects. This is done mainly to collect feedback and responses from shoppers for upcoming products/ campaigns and themes. In a way, it is space that stands out from the rest of the brand’s retail portfolio.
For other retailers, concept stores are a response to external pressures including customer habits and online shopping. The change in shopping behavior of the Millennials is one of the reasons that stores are changing itself.
“Consumer shopping habits are evolving rapidly, and so the retail industry is looking out for options to innovate beyond the four walls. Now brands have started re-imagining and innovating physical stores by creating spaces where the virtual and physical world collide, that leads to experience focused retail, which will generate more attention and customer walk-ins. Concept stores add value and create a buzz. We all agree to the fact that in the times we live in, even the most eye-popping store needs to revamp itself from time to time to keep consumers interested. This dynamism might explain why shopping malls are now seeing a growing number of ‘concept stores’,” says Shibu Philips, Business Head, LuLu Mall.
“Concept stores add a lot of drama and excitement to a shopping centre and a much-needed flavour to the entertainment quotient as well.
New theme-based stores and merchandise are dotting the mall and acclimatising to changes every month or planning the theme according to the box office calendar. For instance, when the movie Avengers was released, the store owners came up with the related merchandise to attract the customers. In fact, every now and then, they are pulling out something new to maintain the footfall,” says Gurvineet Singh, COO, Viviana Mall.
“Concept stores bring in unique content, attracting footfalls to the mall. Increasingly malls are becoming concept-driven and high on experiences so as to stay relevant to the evolving customers,” adds Munish Khanna, CRO, Express Avenue.
“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. Many of them off er extra experiential elements such as a café or events space, which helps build a community around the lifestyle they embody,” explains Arijit Chatterjee, Chief Operating Officer, Junction Mall.
Impact of Concept Stores
“Concept stores are quite unique, creative and cater to a certain niche. They have the ability to be varied in their own ways.
In Viviana, we have Hitchki, which is a Bollywood themed restaurant specially crafted for the Bollywood lovers, over and above. We have stores specifically focusing on kitchenware, superhero merchandise and theme-based pubs as well.
Additionally, we are striving to adapt to a destination mall, which means fulfilling the need of each and everyone who visits the mall. Additionally, we are striving to adapt to a destination mall, which means fulfilling need of each and everyone who visits the mall,” says Singh.
“In the digital age where convenience and anytime shopping is gaining popularity concept stores are of increasing importance so as to be able to stay relevant to the new-age customers,” highlights Khanna.
“In shopping malls, a new wave of thinking about bricks-and-mortar retail has given rise to a surge in brands experimenting with concept stores. Apple and Shopper’s Stop have been leading the pack when it comes to creating experience-focused retail for many years. But a wider range of brands is starting to experiment with concepts, and no longer just luxury ones on. Hence, in this new era, where experiencing and aesthetics, look and feel grabs more eyeballs, the importance of concept stores in a shopping mall is quite visible,” explains Chatterjee.
“The one common offering between a shopping mall and concept store is the assortment and a joyful mix of different kinds of products under one roof. Concept stores are curated by a unique selection of products that connect to an over-arching theme. It is always great to have such stores inside a mall.
Alongside the concept of offering a different kind of products, creating unforgettable customer experiences plays a huge role as well. Concept stores might offer a customer a beautiful dress in the window display, along with a little café above the staircase that allows customers not only to shop but also some rest and a hot coffee in between. Concept stores are designed to inspire shoppers, which also adds value to the customer experience resulting in more walk-ins to the shopping mall.
In the age of online shopping, which is purely focused on the product, any avenue for experience creation will work wonders for malls,” adds Philips.
Concept Stores in Malls
Viviana has quite a few concept stores in the mall. There is ‘Pure Home’ focusing just on the home décor segment. The store has a 4DX screen, based on a Korean technology where one can watch movies, with special effects – for example when there’s a scene with fast racing cars, consumers can actually feel the wind blowing near their seats. Aside from this, Pure Home has home theaters displayed in bedroom like settings. Consumers can buy the entire ‘room’ on display including the home theatre set.
“We also have a Sports brand called ‘Essex’ that has come up with a new machine in which you can insert your foot and the technology involved will give you the exact dimensions, telling you whether a particular shoe is the right choice for your foot or not,” adds Singh.
LuLu Hypermarket is LuLu mall’s largest store which is an in-house concept store. It not only sells everything – from grocery, to fresh produce and hot food. Aside from this, it also sells fashion and beauty products, travel and luggage, toys, watches under the brand name ‘Lulu Fashion’ and home furnishing and electronics under ‘Lulu Connect’.
“Lulu Hypermarket is our anchor store, occupying 34 percent of the mall GLA and attracting the highest footfall. Apart from that, we have ‘The Bombay Store’ which goes back to the roots of the Indian culture; then there is ‘Crossword’, a well-accepted concept combining reading, toys, stationery and gifting; ‘Chumbak’ with its unique Indian designs and Hamleys which is a live toy concept. In our upcoming malls we have some very interesting concept stores planned as well,” says Philips.
‘Spice Route’ & ‘Dialogue in Dark’ are two concept stores which are very unique in their own way and only present in Express Avenue in Chennai.
Spice Route is like a quasi gourmet store having all kinds of dry fruits, spices, pickles which draw in a lot of expats, foreigners and householders. Dialogue in Dark in yet another unique entertainment concept where one uses their 4 senses to make sense of the experience offered.
At Junction Mall, there are stores which showcases the brand’s technology portfolio, encourages visitors to try the products before they buy, and allows shoppers to see what goes on inside the store.
“In Junction Mall we have brands Like Apple, Shopper’s Stop, People, Levi’s and Adidas featuring a concept store format where the online and physical worlds often collide, with intelligent product displays, interactivity, and digital technology used to create a more personalised shopping experience. Lighting also helps to convey a unique identity and elicit genuine customer emotions. Bespoke lighting solutions such as Neon-like LED derivatives are often used to express individuality and maximise impact; with neon-style signage also engaging hearts and minds without the challenges of traditional neon,” says Chatterjee.
Footfalls & Popularity
Concept stores, due to their uniqueness, are popular among visitors. Anyone who visits the mall definitely pays a visit to the store, even if he doesn’t buy anything. Concept stores attract customers and mall developers and retailers totally agree with the concept.
“While concept stores provide a feeling of being attached to an experience, some concept stores repeatedly change their themes pulling in customers to see what’s new. This adds to the footfalls of the malls. When a store delivers the requisite spice, drama and flavour, it will eventually, traffic more footfalls as compared to the regular ones,” expresses Singh.
“Large format concept stores like the LuLu Hypermarket have everything for the entire family under one roof. This drives in people in hordes. Other stores have niche concepts that are targeted at specific audiences. This naturally pulls in customers with specific needs,” adds Philips. “Customers are always in search of discovering new things.
Often, we hear that consumers do not only want to be shopping anymore but to be entertained. This is where the idea of concept stores excels,” says Chatterjee.
At Express Avenue, concept stores generate moderate footfalls, but their uniqueness and creative fitting creates a buzz among the shoppers.
Criteria of Opening a Concept Store
Different shopping malls have different criteria, which the retailers and brand must fulfill to launch or start a new concept store. Some malls go with a theme or an idea, whereas others look into the areas such as design, lighting, visual merchandising, technology etc. to drive consumer experience.
“A differentiating USP is one parameter, and the most important factor is the experience created for customers. The design must be unique and the store by itself should be able to draw in customers,” highlights Philips.
“Lighting and trendy fixtures may be all you need to create a hype for young customers. It is also important to know who the desired clients are and what is the brand value and popularity. If you own an antique store and want an ambiance which reflects that, you might choose to go with dimmer lights. And in this case, it might be more acceptable to customers to have a bit more crowding on the store floor,” says Chatterjee.
“From a mall perspective, it is pertinent to focus on the design aspect. The size of the store doesn’t matter but impact and popularity does. To maintain this, we do a lot of questionnaires; we hire management trainees who receive feedback from customers. Based on the answers, we try and understand where the gap is, and patch the loopholes as soon as possible. We don’t really get into the designing facet of the store, but before that, we do approve and understand what the stores are bringing to our table. We give our suggestions, while at the end of the day it is the brand demand and footage link that decides the outcome,” explains Singh.
Rental & Space Allotment
“For LuLu, most concept stores occupy a larger space and their occupancy cost is higher. Unless it involves, apparel, the margins are relatively low. So, considering this, the rentals are generally lower. A concept store is allocated around 5000-10000 sq. ft., however our anchor store Lulu Hypermarket, is more than 2 lakh sq. ft. in area,” says Philips.
“At Viviana we believe in simple logic. Rentals are the product of sale, better the content, better the sale. If there is more sale, then there is more raise in sharing. There is no fixed approach to the allocation of the area as such. We are catering to concept stores measuring 1,000 sq. ft., to theme-based restaurants that are 3,000 sq.ft., to large brands like ‘Ambis’ and ‘One Stock’ that range between 10,000 to 15,000 sq. ft. All of these are concept-based stores and depending on what they are catering to, what is their market size and their demand, the spaces are respectively allocated,” added Singh.
“Concept stores come in all shapes and sizes, starting from 700 sq ft. to 33,000 sq ft. Since they are about discovery and experience, the products and design tend to change regularly to keep telling that story in new and interesting ways. Concept stores may originate as oneoffs, but they usually result in improved long-term financial performance. Indeed, while the concept store itself can cost more than a traditional shop space, by investing resources into figuring out what works (and what doesn’t) when it comes to selling products and in-store design, retailers can save money by testing the waters before roll-out,” concludes Chatterjee.