Home Mall Talks Indian Malls: Selling experiences to engage consumers

Indian Malls: Selling experiences to engage consumers


Shopping centres encapsulate a robust holistic experience of entertainment, food, shopping, and leisure. They are no longer looked upon as retail destinations but instead have evolved into platforms to garner memorable experiences and spend good quality time. They have transformed into a space for people to relax and rejuvenate their energies and spend quality time with family and friends. For malls to succeed in becoming community hubs, it is imperative for the management to engage consumers across various touchpoints – not just retail, but also services provided, the ambience and décor as well as experiences, including events – to ensure both repeat footfalls as well as to garner customer loyalty.

A study by Walker, a customer intelligence consulting firm, has revealed that customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by the year 2020.

“The need to engage the customer is paramount as one wants that the customer forms a positive and great image of the mall in their minds; this helps not only in developing a large base of loyal and repeat customers but also in acquiring new or additional customers,” explains Manoj K Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Mall.

Adding to this, Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director and CEO, Select Infrastructure Pvt. Ltd says, “Engagement and experience can only be achieved in a shopping centre retail format. The customer of the future does not shop merely for functional purposes but also for the experience, which starts much before the actual purchase transaction.”

A 2018 study by KPMG titled ‘Global Retail Trends 2018’ suggests that “customer experience is more important than ever as retailers are striving to differentiate themselves in a challenging and crowded market.

Consequently, experience per square foot will be the new retail metric to measure success”. The study further states that the rise of the conscious customer will continue as consumers base their buying decisions on many factors beyond price. These new consumers, led and influenced by Millennials, are exerting influence on retailers and forcing them to take action.

The disruption that the industry was waiting for is already here, with malls, as brick-and-mortar structures, focusing on engaging customers in different activities spanning across gender and age as soon as they enter the premises in keeping with the new retail climate.

“Consumer engagement is a full-time job. You have to continuously listen and create opportunities for consumers to express themselves. Malls today try to create enriching experiences for customers by creating engaging decor/ selfie points, curating tech-based games involving AI, VR, offering various deals, announcing contests on social media platforms, inviting influencers to showcase latest fashion and trends, conducting DIY workshops and masterclasses with beauty experts, chefs etc., organising events for kids and families that offer a wholesome entertaining experience, arranging concerts and performances, and organising donation drives to help NGOs etc.,” says Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Marketing Head for Inorbit Malls.

Benefits of Engaging Consumers

Retail as we know it is changing. The industry is shifting focus from a brick-and-mortar to a click-and-mortar business model and consumers interact with retailers across various touchpoints. No one shops exclusively in-store or online. To lure in and cater to this changing audience, malls need to focus on creating micro-moments for customers by not only selling products, but also by selling experiences. Engaging activities for visitors across spectrum usually results in customer retention, steady footfalls and repeat visits which in turn leads to growth in sales numbers.

“Engagements activities push customers to feel like a part of the shopping center and results in more time spent per visit. However, partaking in activities like exciting gigs and entertaining competition needs to be the consumer’s choice. The mall must ensure that the entire experience of events and activities is a non-intrusive one, allowing a customer a peaceful visit every time s/he visits. This helps brands generate optimum sales and ultimately results in a higher trading density, which is the success parameter of all shopping centres today,” Dhiraj Jain, Director, Mahagun Group elucidates.

“Customer engagement is a long-term investment in a company. In the long run, the time and energy put into customer engagement can pay off. We have the chance to encourage loyalty, and even increase conversions. The right approach to customer relationships can mean long lasting ties that continue to be profitable even years down the road,” states Arijit Chatterjee, COO, Junction Mall.

Roping in Brands

Collaborations create sustainable win-win opportunities leading to effective marketing. The mall retailer association is one such collaborative effort. Malls plan yearly event calendars and then approach their retail partners, exploring avenues of customer engagement with them.

“Brand participation in different activities organised by our shopping mall in a calendar year is purely subject to barter deals and deliverables which benefits and compliments both. It is about supporting and complimenting each other and at the end of the process rewarding customers engaged in every event,” says Jain.

“At Inorbit, we get in touch with the brand right from the time the brand signs up the store and counsel them on the different marketing elements that can be planned jointly. We focus on category specific promotions and that’s when we cluster brands under same category to come forward and participate via offers, discount and gift vouchers, workshops etc,” reveals Ibhrampurkar.

“Our LuLu Loyalty Program helps us to establish a direct relationship with customers that goes beyond just their visit to the mall. It helps retailers reach out to the maximum number of customers. Specially curated events are conducted for many categories, apart from weekly properties, customer incentive programmes, sales and so on. The mall’s magazine, which is distributed all across Kerala,provides a perfect opportunity for retailers to showcase their latest collections. All food brands are also covered in the magazine which has e-copies as well,” expounds Shibu Philips, Business Head, LuLu Mall.

“We organise various fashion events quite frequently in association with top-notch brands at Junction, we provide platforms where professional models showcasing their latest arrivals, promote offers and deliverables via display areas in and around the mall.” Chatterjee explains.

“At Quest, we put together various kinds of sale events including the Midnight Sale, Black Friday Sale and Republic Day Sale. Retailers are very supportive. And, out of more than 150 brands which are housed at Quest 80 percent of them participate in all these sale events. This is because these events are heavily promoted, and they see a significant amount of increase in footfall which leads to incremental sales at the end of the day,” says Sanjeev Mehra, VP, Quest Properties Ltd.

FECs & Food-Courts: The Real Winners

A vibrant Family Entertainment Centre (FEC) zone is a must for any mall. With increased online shopping, the focus is shifting from ‘shopping’ destinations to a more wholesome approach, giving more importance to food and entertainment – creating community spaces. Similarly, a good food court becomes first place to visit for many foodie shoppers these days. It is as effective as a big size premium anchor brand attracts customers of all ages. The food experience at mall attracts masses.
Food outlets and FECs, both, are important binders making a mall a destination beyond shopping, eventually determining the longevity of stay and footfalls at the mall.

“Malls have become a place for socializing and considering this trend we are assigning more space for F&B and entertainment.
The food court at Inorbit Malad, which started in 2004 with a 1,000 seater capacity went through many changes over the years. We have doubled the space of F&B from 7 to 14 restaurants and cafes, as we anticipated greater demand for F&B experiences,” says Ibhrampurkar.

“We have also increased our entertainment offering by increasing number of screens from 7 to 11 at Inox Malad. Our multiplex is now live with Imax, MX4D, ONYX led screen and premium insignia’s, and have recently opened ScreenX, which is a multi-projection screen covering 3 walls that gives a 270 degree wide movie format making it probably the only multiplex in the world to have so many formats under one roof,” he adds.

“At the inception of Viviana Mall, FEC and food court were a part of our extensive have also made good use of the extra space by restructuring the bowling alley lanes and adding other major attractions such as the trampoline jump, sky race, drop-and-twist, to name a few. The timely upgradation cycle at Viviana Mall serves as a perfect testament to our efforts in creating unparalleled experiences for our customers,” reveals Agarwal.

“We have observed that any category-led promotions give us good results and positively impacts our F&B sales. Recently, we organised a Food Fest which involved specially curated F&B offers and unique dishes along with various engaging activities and workshops around food. This helped achieve a 14 percent YoY increase in F&B sales during the course of the event,” says Anuj Arora, General Manager, Oberoi Mall.

“Malls today are dedicating around 30-35 percent of the GLA to F&B and entertainment. The working class has increased exponentially over the years and so has the number of people eating out. F&B at LuLu Mall itself has recorded a growth of 21 percent. Earlier, FECs were planned and built only for toddlers and children. India today has a brand aware, tech-savvy millennial population with increasing disposable income. Providing exciting entertainment options to them is equally important in order to drive footfalls. So, malls should now focus on building FEC spaces that cater to kids, teenagers and young adults alike,” explains Philips.

Importance of Mall Decoration

In the age of e-commerce people don’t just come to shop or eat at a shopping mall. What draws their attention more is different thematic decorations, selfie booths and photo ops. The idea is to offer something more than just shops, by combining interactivity and engagement through visually enticing décor. These interactive installations serve to create excitement for patrons across age groups. Shoppers participate in games, win prizes and then capture their memories through selfies, gaining experiences as part of a leisurely day spent at the mall. Festival décor too makes for high impact engagement and helps convey the festive mood, giving off a feel good vibe. Innovative decor welcomes new customers, generates photo opportunities leading to social media traction and assured PR.

“Every year, we have a theme that we ideate and execute, and it runs as a central theme across all our celebrations. This being our sixth year of operation, we ran a colour theme and a weeklong extravaganza was organised. This theme ran through our installations and art exhibits as well as the activities conducted as part of the celebrations,” says

“The mall decoration (if done well) uplifts the festive mood thus increasing visitor dwell time. Even a simple installation can be a photo opportunity for today’s selfie lovers. This was recently observed for our Janmashtami celebrations when we had an installation of Krishna playing a flute (with flute music on background) along with Radha dancing on the tunes which attracted various Boomerangs and Selfies by patrons,” adds Arora.

Similarly, Mehra says, “This Durga Puja we had 4 installations at the central atrium which depicted the festivals celebrated at around this time at four different regions (North, South, East and West) in India.” Malls across the world are experimenting and creating unique themed décor to suit every changing season and occasion, with the help of creative directors and highly acclaimed professionals. By ensuring that the otherwise stagnant infrastructure is given a facelift with creative installations and décor, the ‘newness’ of a property can be maintained at all times. Having been presented with an avenue to express one’s opinion then and there, customers take to their social media accounts to post photographs and reviews, thus creating an indirect marketing tool for the company.

“We at Select CITYWALK strongly believe that décor plays a very important role specially during any festive season. Every year, festivities, seasons and sales see the best of our decor on display. For Kargil Day we showcased a thematic installation of the last letters of the martyrs with an experience of a live bunker with sound effects.

Recently the mall celebrated the festival of Diwali where décor of the shopping centre was inspired by various aspects of the Ramayan. The central atrium depicted Hanuman carrying the sanjivani booti – a magical herb – as well as a dhanush, the divine bow. The outdoor area was decorated with architectural elements inspired by Indian mythology as well as rotating diyas, which are synonymous with spreading prosperity and light. Select CITYWALK also likes to engage our audience via crowd-sourcing talent. We also initiated a contest – Designagram where students and professionals were invited to share their creative ideas to be executed by Select CITYWALK as mall décor. We are receiving a phenomenal response to this as well,” shares Sharma.

The Link Between Customer Engagement & Loyalty

Marketing is the art of attracting and keeping profitable customers. It is a proven fact that the top 20 percent of the loyal customers often generate 80 percent or more of a firm’s profits. Interacting with customers, developing loyalty programs, personalising marketing are key activities that could be used to build customer loyalty.

“Most retail and mall establishments run their own loyalty programmes. However, in most of them, less than 50 percent of the entire loyalty base is active and redeeming rewards within the loyalty offerings. Using the right medium to offer the loyalty programmes is vital to its success. With over 80 percent of one’s customer base, owning a smart phone and spending an average of 8-12 hours on it, it is a known fact that the dramatic influence mobile phones has had, not only on retail, but on all daily personal activities is going to continue to increase.

Therefore, building a mobile-first loyalty programme will prove critical in customer retention strategies. Driving offers, bill submissions, managing points and posting communications through mobiles, will not just be convenient to the customer, but will help maintain an active loyalty base. It is important to know your customers. And in order to know the customer, malls must collect information and store it in a database for database marketing. A customer database, containing the consumers’ past purchases, demographics (age, income, family members, birthdays, psychographics (activities, interests and opinions), mediagraphics (preferred media), is golden. But not all customers would want an ongoing relationship with a company and may resent having their personal data collected and stored. Concern towards customer’s privacy and security is required and the marketing needs to be subtle,” explains Philips.

“Loyalty doesn’t come easy. It needs to be generated through some serious services an incentives at every visit of your customer. Things only work when you treat your customers well else ‘someone else will’ concept shall apply. You need to pamper them, keep engaged, entertained and feel like special at their every visit. To retain your customers, you need to run regular loyalty programs and keep them engaged as highly engaged customers are the most loyal ones,” adds Jain.

“Both are very intricately connected. Continued customer engagement builds loyalty of the patrons which helps in garnering repeat footfalls and with customer loyalty intact, the probability of success of all future customer engagement increases multi-fold,” says Arora.

Clubbing Engagement with Social Causes

Involving customers in a social cause can be highly satisfying for them. For customers, it becomes ‘shopping with a cause’, and this is enticing to them. For malls, this means giving back to the society, aside from increased profits.

“Most of Viviana’s social engagement activities are aimed at generating awareness towards a cause or seeking participation towards it. The Pawsome Show’ initiative is an ideal example of a customer engagement initiative that was clubbed successfully with a social engagement/ community service initiative. The objective of the action was to generate awareness towards dogs abandoned by the owners and the local breed of dogs who are being ignored. We arranged an adoption drive for such pets but keeping it as only an adoption drive would not have gathered the kind of response we wanted. Hence, we invited our patrons along with their pets to be a part of a special fashion show for pets and the response was phenomenal. Even before the event, the response on social media was great. The surviving stories of the rescued dogs reached to thousands of visitors and many pets were adopted at the event,” highlights Agarwal.

“Oberoi Mall has been associated with a number of social causes like spreading awareness of Autism, Down Syndrome, various other disabilities, or conservation of energy, environment etc. The mall organises the World Sparrow Day every year, wherein it tries to spread awareness of the importance of sparrows and how one sees them diminishing drastically in cities especially Mumbai. A display for bird feeders, bird houses and various types of sparrows is kept for enthusiastic customers,” says Arora.

Malls Spend on Engagement

A customer is a long term investment for any organisation. In the age of e-commerce, it is necessary to build and grow customer relationships. Investing in engagement results in lasting returns while strengthening the mall-customer relationship.

“The effectiveness is always measured considering the spike in footfalls and the sales of different retail partners at the mall during any activations/ engagements/ events. Until now, our patrons have been very kind to us by giving us encouraging response and support time and again in all our customer engagements,” reveals Arora.

After every on ground event, our executives take feedback from associated stakeholders to gauge its effectiveness. We also have feedback systems in our washrooms and at various other service touch-points in the mall. Although social media conversations might reflect a smaller segment of our customer population, it’s a very vocal segment. Customers take to social media to express any concerns they have. It is crucial to take all this feedback and act on it. Website and social media metrics for events are highly helpful to judge its impact,” saysPhilips.

“We usually measure our success via qualitative feedback and quantitative measures like participation, footfall and sales at the back of key events and initiative,” adds Sharma.

One can’t improve customer engagement if one doesn’t know how to measure it. There are a number of different ways it can be calculated and one of such big measure is the increase in footfall.
“We gauge effectiveness based on the number of downloads of the Quest mobile app and the number of active users, reach, engagement rate, month-on-month and year-on-year growth for the footfalls in the mall and sales figures of all the brands housed at Quest,” shares Mehra.

Manpower & Logistics

To create various consumer engagement activities, malls go the extra mile by employing extra manpower and logistics to ensure the best experience to consumers.

“There is a management team that handles daily operations of the mall. The mall team along with the outsourced manpower (housekeeping and security) manages and executes the events.
At times, when there are larger events like music concerts, celebrity visits, there are special security and valet arrangements done by the mall and the event agency for smooth vehicle and customer movement,” says Agarwal.

Resonating the same, Jain shares that the mall outsources the event to an event management company, however, it is monitored and lead by the mall employees.

“When we have any celebrity visits or large events that involve public gatherings we plan additional manpower and logistics to ensure smooth execution of our events, seamless parking, security and safety of people within our premises,” states Ibhrampurkar.

“Yes, given the magnitude and size of the event, we ensure our staffing is adequate to ensure a smooth experience for our patrons and accordingly, we hire extra manpower on contract basis during all such engagement events,” shares Arora.

Similarly, Chatterjee says, “Post budgeting, we get in touch with various local and national level agencies and event management companies for a niche productivity and professional execution of the same.” However, malls like LuLu and Select CITYWALK hire extra employees only when it is needed, otherwise they have big teams in place to handle such tasks.

“This entirely depends on each activity. For events and activations, additional manpower is required. The loyalty programme is being run by a dedicated department with several staff of its own. Same is the case with services like valet, butler, etc.,” says Philips. “It depends on the activity. We work with third parties where required to manage the engagement. A lot of the initiatives are either self initiated or in collaboration with partner brands and other agencies,” adds Sharma.

“Security, engineering, extra man hours for housekeeping are required for the success of the event. Additional logistics with police deployment, traffic authorities, ambulance, fire engine is required to carry out the various customer engagement activities,” Mehra states.

Engaging New-Age Customers

The customer is coming days would like technology to make things available on just one tap like ease of access, navigation in the parking to vacant slots, guidance when moving around the mall, information on ongoing offers, promotions and events, loyalty programme usage, virtual trial rooms, e-order or booking in advance of certain products like phones, grocery with home delivery options, intimation when a non-available item is in stock, voice command based interaction with mall app, augmented reality based guidance, mall social media connect and so on.

“The customer of the future is Generation Alpha – aged between 6-16 years. These children are expected to be the wealthiest, most highly-educated and technologically-connected group to date. Collectively, their spending power is huge. From a young age, Alphas would have been widely exposed to multiple digital platforms. Businesses will have to adapt to radically new ways of interacting and communicating with Alphas, compared to their parents.

Generation Alpha’s consumer experience will have to be seamless and integrated, with a personalised experience. So, now as a shopping centre, we must ensure that we constantly create activations and campaigns catering to parents of these children. Back to school and summer/ winter holidays are no longer enough. We need to incorporate elements for this TG throughout the year and also change the way promotions are done. There is a huge potential to tap into a rising crop of child influencers who have their own Instagram pages and YouTube channels with subscriber counts well into the millions,” shares Philips.

“Customers in future, want to browse real time inventory available in the stores at the mall on their phones and basis that decide their visit to the mall. They also want hassle free shopping services where their shopping bags get delivered to their home or they are able to reserve the choice of products on their phone and then pick it up from the mall. They don’t want to stand in queues anywhere. However, traditional retail values like better store experiences, larger product assortment, honest deals from brands, quality merchandise and value driven products will never go out of fashion,” adds Ibhrampurkar.

The customer of the future will want the shopping mall to be more digitized and look forward to personalization experiences within the mall. It will be important for the mall to be omnipresent across all the marketing communication channels.