The concept of cross-channel content strategy that retail companies use to improve their user experience and foster deeper relationships with their consumers across touchpoints – Omnichannel Retail – has existed in retail for almost a decade now. Going ‘Omnichannel’ has become an integral part of strategies all successful brands and retailers across the globe
Omnichannel typically references brands and retailers who have both a physical and a digital presence. The idea of designing a cohesive user experience at all touchpoints was so successful for retailers and appealing to crowds that shopping centres decided to adopt the strategy and mould it to their specifications. With the idea of doing away with an outdated tenant-mix model, many mall owners are today proactively adapting properties to generate growth in an Omnichannel retailing context. Many mall owners are moving away from the traditional copy-and-paste mall model by creating memorable and unique destinations that attract both tenants and shoppers.
While customers are still very interested in physical retail experiences, their expectations are higher, their appetite for experiential retail growing forcing malls to adapt Omnichannel technologies faster than ever before. Add to this the COVID-19 pandemic and suddenly, malls have had to reshape their strategies, incorporate new features into their business structure, and are now moving towards those technologies and experiences that are digitally more convenient to the consumer stuck at home.
The Concept: Expansion of Multichannel Retailing
Omnichannelisation in shopping malls is a tad bit different today from the original concept. As malls are the epicenter of so many segments associated with both traditional and modern retail, everything which is related with interactive consumer engagement comes under this concept. Today customers tend to be looking for information in the physical store and at the same time are fed additional information on their mobile devices on deals and offers. For such connected consumers, a mall taking this initiative will be a big bonus, leading to an organised, convenient medium of focused shopping.
Omnichannel malls which work to send mobile updates on movies, booking tickets via the mall app, including offers and table booking in restaurants, information on new rides in gaming zones and available parking space will ensure that consumers with families visit the mall again and again.
Aside from this, an Omnichannel mall can integrate traditional methods of mass advertising with emerging interactive channels – websites, emails, social media messaging – to give the same messages, offers, and showcase the same products to consumers. This will help incorporate the needs, communications and interactions between customers, brands/ retailers and malls.
Why Malls Need Omnichannelisation
Shopping today is all about convenience – the most important reason perhaps that customers prefer malls to high streets. Malls give them the comfort and ease of spending hours roaming and checking out stores, while the dwell time in high-street stores is limited to minutes. Malls can also provide much better consumer engagement than some big players on high streets including creating great ambience. They also help promote stores at large.
CBRE explains some important factors associated with Omnichannelisation of malls:
Diversification of Retail Mix: Moving the mall tenant mix away from its over-reliance on the low-growth, high e-commerce categories outlined above is pivotal. Proactive mall owners are seeking higher growth categories that focus on experience like food & beverage, entertainment and services. These categories are less vulnerable to online penetration and generate the foot traffic that many traditional mall retailers have lost to the internet.
Creating Distinct Experiences: To compete with online retail growth, mall owners must leverage the competitive advantage of brick-and-mortar experience. Many mall owners are moving away from the traditional copy-and-paste mall model by creating memorable and unique destinations that attract both tenants and shoppers. Enterprising mall owners have taken many different approaches to creating these consumer-friendly experiences, including investment in creative design, events and common spaces. Some have focused on new tenant strategies like pop-ups [link to pop-up piece] that create a buzz and element of surprise to draw in traffic.
Focus on Convenience: Convenience is often cited as the primary reason consumers opt to shop online. The ease and speed of online shopping has raised consumer expectations for how convenient shopping should be, and they carry these expectations with them into the physical store. Landlords must seek to create as convenient and comfortable a shopping experience as possible to attract and retain foot traffic,
focusing on everything from convenient parking, digital wayfinding and customer service. Today, due to the pandemic, if a mall is providing a separate entry to the consumers having ‘Aarogya Setu App’ that can also be rated as Omnichannel service, where the user having the app can walk in straight, whereas others have to wait at the entrance and download the app either with the help of mobile data or mall’s Wi-Fi. If a mall is providing free Wi-Fi for consumers to connect with the Internet and helps him in getting the product of information of his choice, that is another defi nition of consumer convenience and Omnichannel. Many high-end malls are also offering concierge services that can provide things like dry cleaning and pet-sitting. Though the strategy may vary between properties, mall owners must drive convenience elements at their centers to meet the new demands of the Omnichannel customer.
A Mall App: Mandatory & Popular Approach
Most malls today have an app, and those who don’t are in the process of fast developing one, mostly due to the COVID-19 pandemic which has left malls with very low footfalls and shoppers at home. Apps add a layer of convenience at the consumer’s fingertips over the magic of sensory experience. They provide consumers with more power and freedom
through personalised shopping experiences.
Some reasons why apps help in Omnichannelisation and are thus necessary for malls are:
Easy to Visit – Traffic, Routes and Parking: One of the biggest deterrents that restrict visitors is the hassle of reaching the mall. Peak hours – especially in the evening – is a major pain point for visitors who need to fight their way through traffic and then find a parking space. Mall apps help in updating visitors on easiest routes and available parking spaces. Some mall apps also provide pre-booking of parking spaces in mall lots, with the app also guiding visitors to the booked space once s/he enters the mall. Many mall apps also help identify the timings when the traffic is the lowest on a visitor’s route and correlate it with the times when each customer usually likes to spend time at the mall.
In-Mall Navigation: Most malls across India are lakhs of square feet in size and there is plenty to explore in very limited time. Apps make navigation in malls easy and accessible. The mobile app by its immense power of analytics, can understand the shopping behavior/pattern of the consumers and can suggest the new arrivals/ offers available in different stores as well. It can also help in finding the nearest restroom, fire exit or staircase. The app can even tell customers if wheelchairs, trolleys or strollers are available.
Payments & Checkout: Adding more benefits, payments and checkout are other factors associated with the app. The apps offer the convenience of no more queues at billing counters. Many malls also provide ‘Click-and-Collect’ services through their apps. Consumers can make purchases at various shops in a mall and once the payment is complete, mall staff collect all their bags and deposit them at a designated section in the mall. From here, the consumer can pick them up together before leaving.
In COVID times, many malls extended this service by delivering the purchased items to the consumer’s vehicles in parking lots. Many malls are also experimenting with the home delivery concept as well, where consumers can make purchases in app and the mall delivers the products to their homes.
Here’s a look at how some of the best shopping centres are going Omnichannel – and excelling at it – in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and also because it is the need of the 21st Century:
11 INORBIT MALLS
Inorbit Malls continues to invest in technology and other areas to bring solutions that help simplify the lives of all its stakeholders. As a brand, they believe in creating and offering new experiences to their consumers for creating a recall value for the brand and ensuring repeat visits from their patrons.
“To encourage shopping, Inorbit along with their retail partners are ensuring products are made available to customers via WhatsApp, email and even video calls; allowing customers to place orders sitting at home and having the product delivered at their doorstep. The malls have invited lifestyle bloggers to promote retailer products and offers running at the mall,” explains Rajneesh Mahajan, CEO, Inorbit Malls.
Inorbit Malls in Malad and Vashi have introduced various convenience driven services that will provide consumers with a pleasant shopping experience, if they wish to shop from home or avoid the premises for some more time. Both malls in Mumbai have started a video calling facility where consumers can make selection through a video call and get their shopping products home delivered. Customers can also avail of curb side pick-up – i.e. simply drive through the mall to collect their pre-paid shopping bags. These new services of home delivery, catalogue sharing on WhatsApp video call all aim to make shopping safe, convenient and fun in the COVID age. All retailers well over 100 brands – within its premises offer these personalised services to customers.
Besides this, Inorbit is ensuring that the body temperature of every visitor and all mall staff is checked everytime they enter the mall, social distancing norms within the premises are maintained, a minimum touch policy is followed and that no touch sanitizing stations are installed at regular distances.
With COVID-19 still forcing consumers to stay indoors in the relative safety of their homes, Inorbit Mall, Whitefield came up with a novel idea to take the shopping centre to the shoppers. In association with brands like Celio*, Skechers, Metro, US Polo,
Flying Machine etc., Inorbit Whitefield is arranging shopping stalls in clubhouses of Bengaluru townships so society residents can visit and shop – happy shopping experience with utmost safety at the customers’ doorstep.
“This is truly a delightful one of a kind initiative taken up by Inorbit Mall, Whitefield for allowing our residents to benefit immensely from shopping stores at their doorstep during the current pandemic times. I am sure such a shopping experience – set up with so much ease and with all precautionary measures – will mutually benefit the mall authorities and the society residents and will be appreciated by all. Looking forward to collaborating with Inorbit Mall for more similar endeavours that benefit our residents,” says Jagvir Singh Rawat, Food & Beverage Manager, Palm Meadows Club, Adarsh Palm Meadows Society, Whitefield.
22 DLF SHOPPING MALLS
The new ‘Shop Safe’ feature on the ‘DLF Malls Lukout app’, uses advanced algorithms, data from multiple sensors to calculate real-time mall traffic and safety updates. It informs them on the permissible number versus actual no of people (at any given point of time) in the mall as per social distancing norm, which can help consumers to make an informed decision on time to visit the mall. The app also lets shoppers to express check-in through Safe Pass or their Aarogya Setu QR code.
With this launch, DLF Shopping Malls has transformed its digital in-app experience with a safe shopping feature which will provide customers real time safety updates, footfall updates in the mall. Thereby, helping customers to plan their mall visits by prebooking their time slot while sitting at home.
The app has also introduced one of its kind, a new feature ‘The Lukout Closet’, a digital wardrobe for fashion lovers. A complete immersive visual experience, it curates the looks as per season’s latest trends. And with an exclusive DLF Malls Shop Assist service, it connects consumers with the brand’s store manager directly. Not just that, now shoppers can enjoy live video calling and virtual store navigation with DLF Malls Shop Assist with this app.
The dining experience has also been upgraded with an all inclusive feature of Contactless Dining introduced across the restaurants and food courts housed in DLF Malls that allows consumer to book a table, check out digital menu, pre-order as well as with an option of direct payment.
Speaking about the app, Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Retail, says, “In line with our commitment of providing a safe and pleasurable shopping experience for our consumers, we are delighted to introduce our revamped app ‘DLF Malls Lukout’. With features like ‘Shop Safe’ and ‘Lukout Closet’ our aim is to help and guide our customers so that they can maintain social distancing and shop with new energy and confi dence. The app will further assist them in prebooking and pre-planning their visit and encourage contactless shopping and dining experiences in our malls. With this, we want to provide the safest and most convenient shopping experience for not just our customers who are visiting the malls, but also for those who are at home and want to shop at our properties.”
DLF Malls has unveiled a new brand film to showcase the new features of the ‘DLF Malls Lukout app’ and has also introduced a new logo. The app is available on both Google Play Store and Apple Store for customers to download.
Customers looking for takeaways can simply pre-order the dishes, grab the items from the counter and check out by making contactless payments through their smartphones. Thus, making the entire in-mall experience seamless and contact-free, as much as possible.
Restaurants within the DLF Shopping Malls portfolio will be integrated with AI-powered video solutions from ‘Staqu’ which will render specialised analytics on restaurant operations and bring the live feed to the diners helping them monitor safety parameters in the kitchen. A live stream of the kitchen proceedings will also be available to the end customer on the Dineout app and assure them of hygiene compliance and sanitization standards. This will help reinforce consumer confidence, thereby increasing quality footfalls to the restaurants.
33 LULU MALL
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.
As soon as the lockdown was announced in March, it was quickly learnt that hypermarket and supermarket will be the only formats that would be operational. That prompted malls to develop measures to let consumers order online. LuLu Mall developed an app for making ordering and delivering easy for the consumers.
“By the third day of lockdown, we had developed an app, so that ordering became easy. We started with 100 deliveries a day and it picked up to 4,500 deliveries, with our staff becoming drivers and delivery agents for the orders. We signed up with aggregators and all the norms (sanitizers, temperature checking and masks) were in place to make things convenient for the consumers. We had put enough restrictions for people coming to the mall for takeaways for their benefit and safety. Not more than two persons were allowed in the car and we tried to arrange and cover every possible angle and it worked out well,” says Shibu Philips, Business Head, LuLu Shopping Mall.
The lockdown period was also educational for LuLu Shopping Mall. The mall’s Live Loyalty Platform, which had more than 2 lakh members, saw a steady rise in the number of loyal consumers.
“The platform was operational 24*7, and customers could always call to place an order. As the app was the center point of attraction, we realised that there was a hefty increase in the number of loyal customers. For the food court, we have tied up with an operator who can ensure that the customers can order their food without going to the counter. Consumers can do this by scanning a code and the order details are delivered on their WhatsApp number. They can pay their bill in the same way,” Philips added.
In the food court, the mall has introduced contactless dining where customers simply need to scan a QR code, order and pay and collect their food contact free. LuLu Hypermarket has been providing express delivery for everything from grocery to and electronics to even elaborate festive food.
“Our loyal customers have been provided with a hotline number where they can speak to our customer executive and get access to any service or product in the mall on priority basis or clear any query related to the mall. Several retailers are ensuring their products are accessible online and the mall is treated as the collection point,” added Philips.