The dynamics of the Indian retail industry are rapidly changing post liberalisation. The industry, which was once dominated by unorganised mom-and-pop stores, is transforming into an organised body and subsequently, India is witnessing a mall boom. The rise in Internet subscribers and active social media users, changing lifestyles and increasing disposable incomes have transformed the rural and urban consumer bases alike. This dynamic resulted in the increasing prominence of malls across the country.
The world has also seen a transition in the way consumers shop at the mall – with retailers giving suggestions to shoppers on what to buy based on their personal needs, dictating the success of the store. To satisfy these burgeoning customer needs, not only retailers but malls are also embracing technology to reach modern shoppers.
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.
While it has certainly made life easier for consumers, mall developers in India have spent the better part of the last few years on their heels, finding tech solutions.
In order to be more competent, malls are putting their best foot forward to embrace emerging technologies. With increasing cut-throat competition, it has become the need of the hour for mall developers to innovate and implement cutting-edge technologies in a bid to lure the customer who was shifting to e-commerce due to convenience and vast choice.
Malls today are using technology in various ways – from putting up smart displays to digital directories, interlinking the entire mall with an app, booking parking spots, offering discounts, mapping customer behaviour, keeping a track record of how consumers shop and what they buy and a lot more.
Malls in Tier I and metro cities have already started implementing technologies in a big way, however, small malls in Tier II and III cities and beyond are still analysing the pros and cons of experimenting with new technologies.
Technology: Revolutionising Malls
In the recent years, retail industry has been adopting various technological innovations that are constantly evolving.
Now, technology plays a pivotal role in shopping centre industry too. Through utilising the right mix of technology, improvements are made for not only for consumers but also to amplify brands. Hence, adoption of technology has become an integral part of the business and a key essential for survival.
Malls today totally understand and realise the importance of digitisation and have integrated the latest technology in their day to day retail practices for improved services and higher revenues. Malls are constantly reconstructing their business model and experimenting with the latest technology like AI, ML, Quantum Computing, e-Tailing and more in the race to dominate the market with their superior customer service.
High tech innovations not only help retailers stay competitive and marketable but also facilitates their growth through better business analytics, improved planning and excellent decision making.
“Technology has completely changed the shopping centre industry and the way we do business across the board. Right from vendor management to our own systems and processes as well as our front-end customer services. I find technology to be an enabler for us to be more efficient and more capable of managing our operations,” says Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director, Select CITYWALK.
In order to stay relevant, shopping centres are increasingly ramping up their investments in cutting-edge technologies. As per Gartner, the global spending on technology in the retail sector is estimated to grow by 3.6 percent year-on-year (YoY) to reach US$ 203.6 billion in 2019. This growth is expected to continue over the next two years.
“With an increased exposure to the digital media, consumers are more aware of malls, stores and brands around them. Technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT) as well as blockchain, is helping to deepen engagement with customers. It has further helped to improve customer service, provide shopping convenience, experience, etc.,” says Manoj K Agarwal, Viviana Mall.
“Malls are becoming future-ready with smart displays, digital directories, interlinking the entire space with apps, smart parking spots, website propagation and social media presence. Simultaneously, data gathered from digital mediums is collated and analyzed to study customer behavior on how consumers shop, what they buy among others,” he adds.
Introduction of technology has made the shopping experience for customers quite easy and hassle-free. Technology is creating a better user experience and helping improve sales.
“The shift to new digital methods is helping retailers acquire new customers, engage better with existing ones, reduce costs, and improve employee morale,” Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, Pacific Group states.
Technological advancements over the past few years have helped to enhance the shopping experience throughout the purchasing journey. The combination of tech and personal shoppers opens up a world of customer insights.
“Technological innovations and implementations have revolutionised the way mall developers and mall operators think. They have transformed the shopping centre industry from physical to digital and now a new combined era of Omnichannel. Micro level data analysis and data intelligence have presented the industry a new dimension to think and execute the strategy,” asserts Arijit Chatterjee, COO, Junction Mall.
“The shopping centre industry has undergone a pivotal revolution with the advent of technology. For instance, POS based loyalty programs which ensure earning and burning of points at the point of shopping itself, and privileges have enhanced the overall shopping experience for customers,” adds Mukesh Kumar, CEO, Infiniti Mall.
In today’s retail landscape, particularly for major shopping centres, customer experience is the chief concern. For any shopping centre, providing a good ambience for customers is the best way to provide a comfortable atmosphere, resulting in higher spending. Consumers have all the buying power and they are the trendsetters. Retailers need to implement advanced technology to identify those trends in order to capitalise on them. This is why some of the most promising retail technologies revolve around collecting data in order to provide better customer experience and increased interactions with retail spaces.
MAPS Technology is dramatically changing the way mall managers handle marketing display campaigns. It empowers mall management teams to carry out large scale maintenance work, reach more marketing display spaces and update them more frequently at a reduced cost.
Intelligent Dashboards & Reports point to the correlation between footfalls and customer spends on any day. Heat maps indicating which areas of the mall are performing and which need more attention make focusing on key areas easier.
Yield Management Analysis is another area that could greatly add to the profitability of malls where a closer study of the yields, vacancies and the potential can be culled out using such analytics.
Consumer-centric tech platforms like AI (Artificial Intelligence), AR (Augmented Reality) and VR (Virtual Reality) enable personalised and engaging experiences.
These technologies help in building malls’ connection with consumers via product visualisation, behaviour analyses, communication with customers, creating real-time merchandising, marketing, advertising, and promotional opportunities.
Increasing demand for experiential retail coupled with the stores’ ability to be different is, in a way, fuelling demand for new technologies. It is expected that the malls will soon be introducing holograms – static visuals to interactive ones – in place of the traditional promotional standees and flex boards.
Already, malls have at their disposal varied digital communication tools, from bots like Kik Bot Shop and WeChat to voice-activated AI agents like Google Now and Amazon’s Alexa. Mall operators and tenants are also leveraging these personalised digital ecologies when shoppers are either in or away from their centres.
Also, with shoppers’ mobile devices connecting to the mall’s WiFi-network, a new channel of communication has opened between the mall operator, retailer and customers. This avenue gives shoppers relevant information right from where to park the car to various offers and enticements like discounts. This makes the shopping experience more personal, convenient and enjoyable.
Technology: Ensuring Smooth Operations
Future of shopping malls can be described in three words – ‘interactive public spaces’. The world’s most thriving shopping centres stay ahead by offering experiences backed by technology.
“The ever-evolving consumer of today is experience-seeking, he is hyper-connected and to a great degree influenced by social media. Today’s new-age consumer loves personalisation and at the same time is also value-driven. Just as retailers are moving towards enhancing customer experiences through technology, malls too have enhanced customer journey with effective use of technology. Along with this, malls are also building a sustainable competitive advantage to drive profitable growth,” says Sachin Dhanawade, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Retail & Real Estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Limited.
“For any physical retailer, providing a good in-store experience for customers is the best way to combat the growth of e-commerce and changing consumer preferences. Retailers need to implement advanced technology to identify those trends in order to capitalise on them. This is why some of the most promising retail technologies revolve around collecting data on consumers’ interactions with retail spaces. A report indicates that introduction of digital methods and latest technologies, India’s retail market is expected to grow to US$ 1.2 trillion by 2021,” Bansal states.
“Integrating innovations has made the shopping experience better, as a whole. Digitalisation has helped with targeted and efficient marketing to create personalised shopping experiences,” adds Arjun Gehlot, Director, Ambience Malls.
Mall operators are getting a greater understanding of the customers’ shopping habits and preferences via apps, free Wi-Fi service, point-of-sales data, and security cameras. Wi-Fi analytics, for instance, reveals what websites shoppers are visiting, thus providing insights into what people are looking at while traveling within a particular area of the mall. This data is analysed to create valuable insights for tenants who want to improve their product assortments, window displays, pricing strategies, or promotions.
“Advanced analytics also allow operators to optimize their mix of tenants and their leasing terms. By determining which customer segments are likely to shop next and for what products, analytics predict tenant performance and future shopper behaviour,” highlights Mukesh Kumar, CEO, Infiniti Mall.
At the moment, technology is being utilised to keep a tab of shopping habits, enhance experience, designing spaces, etc. Nevertheless, not all malls have chosen the latest technology available to optimize their operations. For example, parking fee tickets continue to be manually operated at the exits. Shopping centres are yet to install cashless only payments. In South Asian countries, there are virtual concierges, robot receptionists and service staff apart from voice-based assistance and guidance. Soon, this trend will enter India and will become an integral part of our day-to-day lives.
“The digital transformation of retail does not spell bad news for malls that are agile and proactive. On the contrary, it presents them with newer ways to engage consumers throughout their decision-making process,” says Agarwal.
Putting Technology to Use
Mall operations is a process where all individual area have their own importance. Importance of technology is equally useful for all in terms of upgrading services. Services starting from parking to ticket booking in multiplex to table booking in restaurants to ordering food in food court etc along with using retail brand portals for shopping or implementing digital promotional tools all are equally important in the current scenario.
Technology plays a big role in making Select CITYWALK’s operations more efficient. The mall is using Wi-Fi sensor technology to optimize store traffic, collect insights, analyse customer behaviour and overall traffic flow between floors and individual retail stores in the mall. The kind of intelligence and analysis that this brings allows the mall to be more customer centric.
“Today, technology is ubiquitous in mall management. From infrastructure upkeep to customer service and day-to-day operations, technology has helped in creating a retail space that prioritizes its customers. It has helped us to understand customer needs better, respond to their requirements in best possible way and make their shopping experience more streamlined and enjoyable,” says Gehlot.
“Payments and security systems are two parts of operations where technology plays the most vital part. This is because earlier payments used to take a lot of time due to various factors, the most common being lack of change at the payment counter which resulted in long queues at the payment counters. Due to this, many customers started preferring e-commerce platforms for shopping. But with introduction of digital payments, this problem has been sorted to some extent. Then, technology also plays a vital role in providing better security at big shopping malls. Every day, the number of people visiting shopping malls is increasing rapidly and to keep a check on every visitor is a herculean task. Technology has made it quite easy. Installation of x-ray machines and CCTV cameras have really revolutionised the security system,” states Bansal.
Resonating the same thoughts, Mahesh M, CEO, Creaticity, says, “While technology is playing a big role in parking management and facility management for sure, we have placed our focus on consumer empowerment and engagement. Technology is most useful among others, in exploring the campus, navigating smoothly, focussed purchase decision, higher conversions and most important, helping the team reach out to our customers to address their specific requirements.”
Shopping centers are widening their association with the clients using social networking, marketing, mobile applications, free WiFi etc. These aspects provide shopping centers a space to build association with clients and gather essential data.
“Our Rewards Program Growel’s ++ permits us to connect better with our consumers resulting in repeat purchases, visits and enhancing consumer loyalty,” shares Dhanawade.
Employees or Technology – Who Will Be the Winner?
One of the primary reasons why people still prefer shopping at retail stores over e-commerce platform is the human touch. People have the option to inquire about a product face to face which of course increases the understanding of the product as well as reliability. Technology, of course, makes work easy for associates but it cannot replace the associates
“The key is to understand the purpose of technology. Technology should always be treated as an enabler and not a replacement for human resources. We need to equip our human resources to perform better using relevant and efficient technology solutions,” says Sharma.
Resonating the same thoughts, Gehlot shares, “Technology is not a replacement for hardworking personnel but the pervasiveness of technology in workplace, including mall operations, has motivated employees to attain new sets of skills, making them more effective and efficient in using creativity to implement innovative strategies and achieve goals.”
“Employees are an integral part of a shopping centre and so too retail outlets. While technological interventions will help build a strong and transparent engagement between consumers and shopping centres, the personal connect will be enabled by employees through personalised attention to detail. For instance, while we have interactive kiosks that share store info, navigation and path downloads, our personalised curated trails by our team adds value in terms of specific knowledge shared. And mind you, they use the same technology to help customers in their journey. To me, a technology-enriched salesperson is the best resource to build strong personal connect with our customers,” asserts Mahesh M.
“Technology and employees complement each other in optimizing performance and scaling up returns on investment. Data analytics and other technological channels makes it easier to gather and classify the information. It is the associates or employees who formulate, implement and execute strategies as per the data gathered by various technological platforms. Whereas, for those shoppers who still continue old school practices, associates would be as relevant as technology is for the youth,” concludes Agarwal.