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The Changing Face of Indian Malls: From shopping destinations to community hubs

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What goes into making of a perfect mall? Is it mall design, location, brand mix, zoning, ambiance, great F&B and leisure options or offering of basic services to shoppers walking into the mall? From a shopper’s point of view, the option of being able to avail of basic services like accessible seating places, wheelchair services for those in need, hassle free entry and exit points and clean restrooms would perhaps top the charts. The best of malls in terms of design and brand mix may fail to win shoppers’ patronage if they find themselves facing discomfort in availing of basic services.
Shopping Centre News takes a look at what leading malls are doing which is different from the usual to become consumer engagement spaces with the offer of various services that silently and seamlessly work towards making the shopper feel at ease.
Making of a Perfect Mall
Setting the context of the story, Rajiv Malla, Chief Executive Officer, R City Malls says, “A mall needs to be more than just a place that offers shopping. It should be a place that also serves as a community centre. The décor and ambience complemented with soothing music and seamless services of hygienic washrooms, differently-abled services, emergency rooms, etc adds to the overall customer experience.”
Manoj K Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Viviana Mall adds to this saying: “Any mall’s success is dependent on many factors starting from site selection, access, design, project execution, internal and external circulation, services, facilities experience, retail mix, and of course, finally to mall management. Like behind every successful person, there is a woman, similarly, behind every successful mall, there is its mall management. Mall Management, thus, creates and dictates the customer experience and manages and fulfills customer expectations, which, combined with effective marketing, security, ambiance, maintenance, housekeeping, has an extremely vital in satisfying customers, creating a buzz, building the mall’s image and generating goodwill.”
According to Anuj Arora, General Manager, Oberoi Mall efficiently designed services which are planned keeping customer convenience at the helm of it all is one of the integral factors in the success story of any mall. “Right from the time the patron drives or walks in, to the time he/she exits the mall, the entire experience should resonate with them across all touch-points – be it parking, security, lighting (natural and otherwise), washrooms, common area and stores upkeep, air conditioning. All these are touch points that help create a lasting impression in the minds of the patrons to help repeat and attract new footfalls.”
On the need to do so, he explains, “In a city as space starved as ours, malls act more like community centres where people come to socialise. With a combination of shopping, dining, entertainment, as well as providing a platform for families and friends to bond and create memories, a mall today is a complete experience. Hence, it’s essential for malls to look beyond being just shopping centres and create a 360-degree holistic experience for the patrons.”
Arora says that the team at Oberoi Mall has ensured that attention to every minute detail is given to extend a pleasant experience to patrons.
As per Rajendra Kalkar, President (West) Phoenix Mills Ltd., his mall regularly interacts with customers and continuously works to provide them with new experiences and offerings. It is a one stop destination where customers can relax, unwind and spend some time with their near and dear ones. There are a lot of factors and elements which make a mall a successful destination for shopping and entertainment. To increase footfalls and develop loyalty for a brand, it’s important that malls conceptualize and provide experiential services like porter services, food vending machines etc. All these when put together ensures that the mall targets the right audience and garners the correct responses from them not only to make the mall a successful place, but also to ensure that the retailers gain maximum benefits.”
Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Head of Marketing & Corporate Communications Inorbit Malls Pvt Ltd shares his views saying,“At the ground level, operational efficiencies are critical and so it is imperative to deliver better service levels to all stakeholders visiting the mall. At Inorbit, we have our app that enables partner retailers to log operational complaints on daily basis.
This has helped streamline the complaint management system and increased efficiencies by ensuring that the complaints are addressed in a shorter period of time.”
Significant Services
Customers are greeted by security staff when they enter a mall and having to go through a round of security check is routine.
However, despite the solemnity of the check, the customer must always be made to feel welcome, important. Being greeted with a stern security check officer can b ea real put off, malls are expected to make sure their security personnel are trained thus and in case of any security breach, confront the shopper in a friendly-manner.
On entering the mall, it is essential shoppers quickly locate what they are looking for. This calls for a prompt and friendly help desk or self-help kiosks to guide her at the mall. From not having to take a long walk to reach to the escalator to being able to easily locate the washrooms, each of the services that the mall has to offer should be within easy reach of the shopper.
In order to ensure that all the services available at the mall are in sync with customer expectations, Viviana Mall has made it a point to pay close attention to the feedback they receive on various platforms to improve their offerings.
Agarwal shares, “We closely monitor our customer feedback across various media and are prompt to revert to them as well as we are prompt in taking corrective action and implementing any valid suggestions. We have inculcated a culture where not only the management team but also our outsourced agencies, as well as our retail partners, take pride in the services that they offer and are quick to respond to customer needs and requirements. Similarly, based on our understanding of customer’s needs, we have 30 mall services, many of which have been newly introduced based on this understanding.
We are the first mall in India to have lounge service for Loyalty Program customers and senior citizens. While celebrating our 5th anniversary, we launched a dedicated lounge keeping our visitors in focus.”
The mall offers other services like golf carts to and from the parking area, a car wash in the parking area, exclusive ladies parking, an organic waste management plant – which converts perishable food waste from the mall’s food court and restaurants into organic manure, which is in turn distributed for free to customers as well as the local Municipal Corporation.
Other services include free mobile battery recharging service using power banks, sanitary pad dispensers in restrooms, electric or motorised wheelchairs making the mall mobility-impaired friendly as well as safety bands for kids – bands put around kids’wrists which can be electronically tracked by the mall management in case a child gets lost in the crowd. Aside from this there is a baby care room, nappy dispensers, namaaz room, shoe laundry,mobile repair and key maker services.
Similarly, at High Street Phoenix, Mumbai prominent services include electric car-charging station, portable mobile charging points, a centralized air-conditioning system, advanced security, surveillance and access controls, plenty of parking space and a capacity to accommodate not less than a thousand vehicles, porter services for all the customer who need someone to share that extra load, shuttle service, free Wi-Fi, F&F concierge desk and valet services.
At Oberoi Mall, an attempt is made to ensure that each and every touchpoint provides consumers with an exceptional experience from the moment they enter the mall to the time they leave. There’s well-trained andenabled security staff, a concierge desk, a natural lit bright entrance atrium, valet service as well as convenient parking options, resting lounges and washrooms for drivers in the parking lot, parking spaces reserved forthe specially-abled, expecting mothers and seniors etc.
Arora says, “Inside the mall, there are prams on rent, money exchangers and ATMs, gift wrapping services, florists etc., inaddition to stores that cater to all age groups, genders and lifestyles. Recently, we have also introduced USB charging points across the common area of the mall. There is also a dedicated ambulance and nurse station operational during the trading hours of the mall to quickly respond in case of any untoward incidents and emergencies.”
The mall further extends services like providing baby diapers and wipes on request along with the facility of making sanitary pads available as well. These little services go a long way in making a shopper feel comfortable while at the mall.
R City Mall offers a novel feature – baggage counters for customers thus allowing them to indulge in hassle free shopping while their luggage is taken care by mall staff. The mall also provides parking spaces for the differently-abled, wheelchair services, baby prams, hygienic restrooms, sanitary napkin vending machines, diaper changing units etc. Apart from these features, there are other services like a first-aid kit, lost & found room, valet parking and car wash services to name a few.
Designing & Maintaining Restrooms A major challenge that any mall faces would be that of maintaining the restrooms with thousands of shoppers from different walks of life visiting a mall every single day. From ensuring cleanliness to having a pleasant ambiance, the task at hand is one of the most difficult of handle and what makes it even more challenging is the lack of time to renovate and repair when need be.
Ibhrampurkar rightfully points out, “Amenity areas such as toilets and mother care rooms are essential and differentiate a shopping mall from any other high street shopping street. We believe the only way to differentiate from competition also is by upgrading and delivering great service levels at every touch point during the customer journey, Clean and hygienic washrooms is one such critical service inside a mall. Any mall on an average gets 15,000-20,000 customers every day, this count doubles up over the weekends and during festive periods. The quality of these services has a direct bearing on the happiness and leisure of the customers. Good washrooms need to be easily accessible on each floor of the mall. They need to be ventilated and should have modern fittings and accessories. The color and style should be appealing to give it a modern and contemporary look.”
“An important aspect we keep in mind while designing washrooms is water saving. We use WCs (water closet) that offer low water consumption. Other features include manual soap dispensers, paper towel and toilet paper dispensers, waste and sanitary bins, hand dryers, mirrors and taps in various styles for customer convenience,” he adds
Sharing the challenges, the team at Oberoi Mall faced while undertaking renovation work for their restrooms, Arora says, “Being an operational mall, renovation of all the washrooms was the biggest challenge we faced. Hence, before we started the execution, all activities and materials were lined up with defined schedule and we started floor-wise renovation of the washrooms, diverting customers to different levels. The renovation helped us add more cubicles and urinals to better manage the increasing crowd and helpedus upgrade the design to recent times. We have also revamped our retailer washrooms now on similar lines and have received encouraging response from the staff. The baby care rooms and washrooms for especially-abled were introduced on additional floors for easy accessibility.”
Besides having a well-trained staff to take care of the cleanliness and hygiene, at HSP, the mall has installed self-closing pillar taps for the public ablution which has been designed to improve hygiene and decrease water consumption.
Kalkar adds, “Further, we have jet hand dryers, shoe polish / water coolers, fragrance disposer and nappy changing units along with baby care products. We have allotted one staff locked down per washroom for cubicle maintenance and one staff per zone for floor and wash basin area. Also, we do level checks in every 25 minutes to ensure each washroom is equipped with raw material. We do daily snagging with a CTT for 28 minutes and check for any fault that needs to be rectified. We close and restrict the place for public use twice a day for 15 minutes for deep cleaning to ensure hygiene is maintained.”
R City Mall has a total of 16 washrooms along with additional 8 washrooms for the staff. Malla says, “The mall has recently renovated and modernized the washrooms keeping in line with the overall design theme of the mall. The washrooms have been designed considering the needs of the customers – including those of expecting mothers, babies, differently-abled and elderly. Dedicated janitors are placed to ensure each washroom is kept clean, hygienic and odour-free.”
On the washroom facility in place at Viviana, Agarwal shares, “We have made sure that customer convenience drives the placement and quality of such an essential facility in the malls. Accordingly, we have two sets of washrooms at each of the three levels of the mall. Each set also includes a restroom for the especially-abled. The special facilities offered in the washrooms areas include jet hand dryers, aroma machines, child basin and urinal, baby care room with bottle warmers, drinking water fountain, children’s seat, nappy dispensers, sanitary napkin dispensers, sanitary waste disposal bins, nappy change stations, use of recycled water and shoe polishing machines.”
Seating Hygiene Unlike before, malls today have made it a point to offer seating spaces to their patrons. Though, considering the footfalls, the seating arrangements still needs attention. The food courts too remain choc-o-block most of the times. This eventually can be a reason for shoppers deciding against visiting a mall, especially those who are older in age and have difficulty walking and those with little children to carry.
Ibhrampurkar talks about the seating arrangement in place at Inorbit, “Comfortable seating is an important feature for the convenience of customers. In order to increase the all-important ‘dwell time’ of shoppers we reinvented our seating arrangements in the mall. These seating spaces are strategically located with inclusion of charging points for customers to charge their phones. We have ensured that the seating spaces look aesthetically neat and compliment the look and feel of the mall, this is done by adding elements like planters etc.”
At High Street Phoenix, the team has put in place a pop-up café to do the needful along with working towards adding in more seating area in their open space. Kalkar shares, “We have a pop-up café by Provenance at the ground floor of palladium mall with open seating areas. The upcoming design will have a sit down area with a lounge at Palladium mall for the patrons. Around 32 benches will be placed and spread across the mall at strategic locations for the customers. Open seating across multiple open areas at the mall which the customers can utilize to sit or work while sipping their cup of coffee.”
To add in more of seating space at R City Mall, Malla and his team are undertaking renovation works as well. He elaborates, “We are renovating R City Mall in order to give better facilities to our customers. The new design will have a seating lounge across all the prime locations in the mall, including the food court. Seating arrangements are also made outside restaurant waiting areas and vehicle pick-up and drop zones. The mall has also added seating provisions with garden umbrellas in the Courtyard area.”
Safety Measures
A lot many malls today are revamping themselves to bring in natural elements thus ensuring that their patrons do not feel locked down in a closed atmosphere. All of this is done while ensuring that safety of those within the mall isn’t compromised upon. Where some unforeseen incidents do happen, like the one where a 20 feet long potion of a false ceiling collapsed at Raghuleela Mall in Mumbai, the malls otherwise are vigilant to take care of any safety and security breaches in form of having a robust CCTV network across the mall along with an alert security staff.
Kalkar reveals the system in place at HSP, “We have a dedicated team of Fire Life & Safety (FLS) vertical which consists of 26 members. There is a zero tolerance policy in case of any breach in the FLS system. All the retail and common areas are equipped with Fire Suppression Systems, Fire Alarm Systems and Fire Fighting systems and is updated in every 3 minute if there is any incident. We also have half yearly audits that is carried by our Head Office and external agencies. There is an ambulance present which is available 24 hours at the mall along with proper medical aid/doctor on call facility for the customers.
Proper internal/ external trainings are given to our FLS team with monthly audits with a mandatory rectification time for all stores within 24-48 hours. No hot works can be carried out without the presence of a certified fire marshal. In addition, we have six level approval process for any hot/welding work which is to be done in and around the mall area. No store is permitted to trade without 100% adherence to FLS requirements and without availability of proper certifications.” With such a robust safety and security system in place, it is no wonder that in 2018, High Street Phoenix won an award of Global Safety Summit Award.
At Viviana, as part of an elaborate security system, the measures includes dog squad, deputing ATS guards during high alert days, daily mock drills and monthly safety drills, internal and external surveillance by personnel in civilian clothes, QR code-based guard patrolling and monitoring system, functional and practical fire detection and fire prevention systems, lost and found services, child wrist band, baggage scanners at all entry points, mandatory police verification for staff and involvement of non-security staff in day-to-day monitoring. Viviana Mall also has over 300 closed-circuit television cameras.
To Conclude
The making of a perfect mall remains incomplete without taking care of the above mentioned features. For most, a visit to a mall is more to recover from the chores of daily life and this makes it imperative for any mall to offer the best possible amenities and services apart from having just a good mix of brands for people to shop.

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