Phoenix Mills Limited (PML) is a leading retail mall developer and operator in India and is the pioneer of retail-led, mixed-use developments in the country with completed development of over 17.5 million sq. ft. spread across retail, hospitality, commercial, and residential asset classes. The brand has an operational retail portfolio of approximately 7 million sq. ft. of retail space spread across 9 operational malls in 6 key cities of India. PML is further developing 4 malls with over 4 million sq. feet of retail space in 4 gateway cities of India. Besides retail, the company has an operating commercial office portfolio with a gross leasable area of approximately 1.3 million sq. ft. and plans to add approximately 5 million sq. ft. of commercial offices across existing and under development mixed-use projects going forward.
In an exclusive interaction with Shopping Centre News, Rajendra Kalkar, President – West, The Phoenix Mills Ltd., analyses the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on the real estate industry. He also analyses the changes and learnings, consumer behaviour, SOPs and norms that the industry must live with in COVID times.
Excerpts from the interview…
COVID-19 has been ruthless to the shopping centre industry. How has it impacted Phoenix malls across cities?
India’s lockdown to contain the pandemic was the strictest in the world as it completely halted economic activity barring essential services in the first phase. While the government began easing curbs, malls were among the last businesses among organised retail that were allowed to reopen, nearly wiping out one full quarter. These have impacted earnings for malls across the country. However, since the lockdown has been lifted, all our malls have been operational and have been witnessing a steady stream of customers and business. In our portfolio, malls in Karnataka and UP were the first to open; followed by those in Maharashtra. Shopping malls in Tamil Nadu were the last to open.
How has consumer response, business and revenue been across Phoenix malls since re-opening?
As mall operators, we are very excited with the new opportunities that the reopening of malls has presented us with. We have innovated, reinvented, and refined our offerings to our customers; and our customers, in turn, have evolved into more discerning shoppers. We have seen the trend of customers valuing their own well-being and becoming keener shoppers. This is very different from revenge shopping. In the first two weeks of the opening, customers were a reluctant to come to the malls, but once they were made aware of all the safety measures that we had implemented across malls, we saw good traction. The situation has improved as the ‘Unlock’ versions have evolved and almost 5.7 million sq. ft. of mall space has resumed trading, which gives us the confidence that the second quarter will be better.
Which categories are doing good business? Is there a different pattern for different malls in different cities?
Consumption trends across markets are picking up with people getting back to purchasing new essentials like electronics and furniture that can help them work from home. Additionally, with the Government allowing offices to open, fashion and lifestyle sales are also seeing movement. Electronics have seen high level of consumption, with sales anywhere between 78 percent and 80 percent of last year. At some locations we have even surpassed those levels. Jewellery, watches and accessories almost average about 60 percent of last year’s sales. Home accessories started off very strong but are now stable at 45-50 percent of last year sales. While the pandemic has resulted in a higher demand for essentials, we are also seeing luxury brands recording higher sales as compared to last year. We also expect that shopping patterns will change in India and abroad – safe shopping and social distancing will continue to be top priorities; and Omnichannel shopping and relationship management will change as retailers become more compassionate and conscious of the needs and concerns of customers.
What kind of business and footfalls is the food category registering? What are the initiatives taken by your malls to make the category more impactful?
As per Government guidelines the F&B category was only catering to home delivery. Now with states allowing dine-in with reduced seating capacity, we see this category to pick up soon. F&B is a very important aspect of the overall customer experience at malls. We have already implemented measures such as contactless payments, QR codes for menu, and more. We have also partnered with ‘Dineout’ to offer customers a hassle-free dining experience. We expect the F&B in the malls to recover very fast given the safety protocols that the operators have put in place coupled with our safety protocols.
What are the SOPs you are planning on implementing to make the mall experience convenient for consumers?
As part of our safety SOPs, we have set up stringent protocols to limit the number of customers at retail stores, restrooms, and elevators. Our malls have implemented globally-accepted safety features such as a crowd density control system at mall entry, UV Scanning Systems at mall entry points for handbags, UV Boxes for sanitizing shopping bags, and sanitization mats at mall entry points for sanitizing footwear. Wearing of masks, temperature checks at the mall entrances, social distancing using floor markers and sanitizers at strategic locations will be strongly enforced across the malls. The mall management has provisioned for contactless digital payment methods at all touch points i.e. stores, parking, F&B stores, and food courts. Each mall has also set up an isolation room and an ambulance for contingencies. We have ensured all measures to ensure the safety of customers at our premises without compromising on their privacy and comfort.
With festivals approaching, what initiatives are you implementing to manage consumers footfalls and expectations in terms of sales, offers and other activities?
This festive season will be important for retailers. We are ready to welcome customers with a safe and enjoyable shopping experience. As always, retailers and brand partners will offer customers enticing offers to add to the festive spirit. We have introduced various technology interventions to make our malls one the safest shopping destinations for customers. We have placed crowd density control system at mall entry at our malls that tell people the number of people at our premises. Additionally, we have introduced facilities like curbside shopping that enables people to pick up their orders from the parking lot without having to leave their cars.
Technology has been a savior for the retail industry so far in this situation. How do you plan to take this forward in your malls?
We have always been trendsetters when it comes to providing customers with exclusive, personal shopping experiences. Continuing in the same vein and considering the current COVID situation, we have now introduced virtual shopping features, WhatsApp chat bots and curbside shopping to ensure safe interactions for customers with the brands at our malls. Customers are encouraged to engage with stylists at our malls through virtual shopping sessions, so that they may purchase their selected merchandise, pay online, and pick up their order from designated curbsides at our malls, without having to step out of their vehicle. This arrangement will give them complete freedom to decide how they interact and engage with brands at our malls. We will continue to invest in enhancing the customers experience further.
Tell us about your project ‘Phoenix Palassio’. Do you think the timing of the launch had any role to play in the mall proceedings and journey so far?
The Phoenix Palassio, launched in Lucknow, is one of the biggest malls in the country. It is spread across 13.53 acres and a built-up area of 1 million sq. ft, the mall has been used as an expansive canvas for the grandest architecture ever seen in shopping malls. We are happy to share that the mall is fully leased. Several renowned international and national brands have partnered with us, including some who will showcase their products in Lucknow for the first time. Phoenix Palassio will be introducing 60 new brands to Lucknow. Aside from this, anchor brands like Lifestyle, Westside, Marks & Spencer, Shoppers Stop, Pantaloons, Max and Big Bazaar will make shopping at Phoenix Palassio an experience befitting even the most discerning shopper’s palate.
|New Brands Being Introduced in Lucknow by Phoenix Palassio|
· Bath & Body Works
· Steve Madden
· The Collective
· Under Armour
· Brooks Brothers
· Armani Exchange
· Cover Story
· Charles & Keith
Has there been any new store launch in all your malls post lockdown? If yes, which are the brands that opened a store and in which malls?
Phoenix Palassio has quickly established itself as a destination of choice for premium and luxury fashion brands in Lucknow. In keeping with its stature of being the most opulent mall in Lucknow, Phoenix Palassio announced the arrival of premium fashion brands Tommy Hilfiger and Under Armour on its premises. Overall, the mall will witness first time launches of around 60 fashion and lifestyle brands in Lucknow in the coming months.
In the month of August, Starbucks unveiled its store at Phoenix Palassio, taking its design and artwork inspiration from traditions and craftsmanship of Lucknow – Chikankari, an ancient form of embroidery. Additionally, Phoenix Palassio is set to fascinate customers with the opening of a vast array of F&B outlets such as Burger King, Asia 7, Choco Fountain, Milkshake & Co., KFC and Jamies Pizzeria. In addition we have had a few brands like Under Armour and Le 15 Cafe launched post lockdown at HSP.
Tell us about your upcoming projects?
Phoenix Palassio is the first mall to become operational of the five that we are developing as a part of our ongoing expansion of over 5 million sq. ft. across Lucknow, Pune, Bengaluru, Indore and Ahmedabad. This expansion will see us double our mall portfolio by FY24. We are confident that as the nation unlocks, rigorous compliance to government guidelines and global best practices in retail will set the tone for the sector’s revival.