Mumbai, India’s financial capital may have been the last to let shopping centres open their doors for consumers but six months since the opening, business has picked up and is almost at par with that of malls across other cities in India. Despite the fact that the Maharashtra Government gave malls the green signal to open much later than other cities (August for Mumbai and September for Thane), most mall heads have praised the decision in retrospect. They feel that the decision was taken after careful evaluation of the situation in hand and in the best interests of the people, especially since the state recorded some of the highest numbers of COVID-19 cases.
It is prudent to note that after malls were opened to the public, food courts were expected to run at not more than 50 percent of their capacity and movie theatres in malls were allowed to open much later than that. However, despite this, business picked up. Shopping centre heads say that a chunk of the credit goes to the spirit of Mumbai and Mumbaikars. Another reason why people thronged to malls post the Unlock stage was the sheer need for outdoor leisure that the world had been deprived of. Aside from this, the fact that it was festival season helped revive sales all that much faster.
The myriad of factors leading to flourishing business aside, it is indeed commendable to note the way malls have taken care of the most minute of details to bounce back. Malls left no stone unturned to bring back consumer confidence at par with pre-COVID days – from decoration to alluring offers and attractive sales and loyalty programs, shoppers were pampered, made to feel extra special.
Adapting to a Slow Start
Reacting to the prolonged closure of malls in Mumbai, Sachin Dhanawade, Chief Operating Officer – Retail and Real Estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Limited, which operates Growel’s 1O1 Mall in the Kandivali suburb of Mumbai said, “It is hard to deny that the elongated closures of malls in Mumbai and across Maharashtra due to the pandemic was tough on retail and business in the region. However, considering the pandemic situation was much worse in Mumbai/Maharashtra as compared to other parts of India, we believe that the Government of Maharashtra has been making a calibrated approach towards #MissionBeginAgain to ensure that the pandemic situation stays under control.”
Mukesh Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Infiniti Mall reiterated this saying, “Malls in Mumbai opened much later as compared to other cities, as COVID cases continued to peak. The local authorities waited for the spike to come down and the situation to be stable, which was indeed a good decision in hindsight. Keeping safety and health as the utmost priority ensured that there were no hurdles or disasters taking place in the long run and that everything resumed smoothly.”
Rima Kirtikar, Chief Marketing Officer, Viviana Mall added to this saying, “The kind of population we have in Mumbai and also the proximity, the steps benefited all. Business wise yes, we did face hardship especially keeping in mind the number of people associated with a single mall, For e.g. 5,000 people alone are directly or indirectly associated with Viviana. No doubt there were a lot of question marks and uncertainty with regards to the final date of opening considering we opened late, especially malls in Thane which in fact opened a month after malls in Mumbai and suburbs of Mumbai opened. But we used this time very tactfully to take care of all the safety measures once we opened. Since the last five months since we opened, we are witnessing an increase in footfalls month on month. According to a research that we carried out, the reason for people walking in can be attributed to the various measures we have undertaken for their safety. People feel confident and at ease walking into our mall now with word of mouth playing an important role. We were surprised to see that families with kids were coming in since the second month of opening itself.”
According to Anuj Arora, General Manager – Oberoi Mall, while Mumbai malls opened later, the decision was taken with sound logic of by the state government in a bid to control the spread of COVID, considering Mumbai has the highest density of population across India.
“The entire fear for the rise in cases is closer here than in any other city across India. I am not discounting the rest of the states in India, but credit must be given to the Maharashtra government for balancing things by taking care of the social aspect of controlling the spread and also ensuring that businesses wouldn’t suffer for too long,” he stated.
Rating the Recovery
Taking into consideration feedback from retailers, Arora points out that the bounce back rate in Mumbai has been much better as compared to malls in other parts of India. “Businesses are now almost at 70% to 80% back YoY at mall level and footfalls are in the range of 60-70% and this is a good start,” he said.
“Though the malls in Maharashtra re-opened after more than 4 months of the pandemic induced lockdown, with initial footfalls at only 20% – 25% of previous year, the sales recovery and footfalls started seeing a steady month-on-month uptick since October 2020 with festive induced shopping activity,” added Dhanawade.
“As restrictions began to ease, consumers gained confidence and slowly started to instill some normalcy in their personal lives. The overall footfalls showed significant improvement of 70% in the month of January 2021, while overall recovery is at 90% of last year. Furthermore, the Government of Maharashtra has recently permitted retail stores and eateries to be operational for longer hours, which will help malls to further improve footfalls while adhering to the social distancing norms and recover business faster,” he further explained.
According to Kirtikar, though there were less footfalls initially, the average ticket size was huge. That implies that there were serious shoppers walking into the mall so in a way the ticket size compensated for the lack in footfalls. She explains, “So it was more of one person shopping for the entire family and with no entertainment quotient initially, the shopper wanted to finish off the shopping in one go instead of wanting to visit the mall again.”
|Customer Engagement by Viviana Mall ~ Rima Kirtikar, Chief Marketing Officer, Viviana Mall
Talking about the business recovery at Infiniti Mall, Mukesh Kumar said, “Post lockdown, the business in malls has been picking up and progressing positively. The festive and holiday season combine with customers pent up demand bought in reassuring statistics. We have been witnessing an average growth of 30% in sales. Food courts and restaurants are running to the full of their prescribed capacity. The footfall has been steady and has gradually picked up since we opened.”
Kumar though, has modestly accepted the slow start stating the slow influx of footfalls post the opening in August 2020 as the reason. “Initially, when we re-opened in August 2020, the number of visitors were much less in comparison to what we would witness before the lockdown. People were hesitant to step out of their houses, as the fear of the virus still loomed. Once people were assured that safety norms and sanitization were in place, they started frequenting the mall. As the festive and holiday season came around, the footfall increased drastically and has been steady ever since.”
Blessing in Disguise
With footfalls recovery standing at almost 70 percent to that of pre-COVID period, the malls made best use of the lockdown time to not just work on their marketing strategy but also went ahead and revived and refurbished their loyalty programs that have paid off very well. The lockdown period was also successfully used to work on measures that would be taken post the opening, the most prominent being ensuring safety of the shoppers walking in.
Kumar explained this saying, “Opening later than other states gave us more time to prepare and to ensure that all safety measures and SOPs would be followed. We kept measures in place to ensure crowd control and social distancing. Timely sanitization, temperature checks and protection gear for the entire staff was arranged. The staff was informed and educated on the new protocols in place and the measures to be taken in case any unprecedented situation arose. We ironed out a plan to ensure every stakeholder’s safety and to avoid whatever hurdles we could possibly witness.”
Talking about the measures adopted at Growel’s 101, Dhanawade said, “Adopting an omnichannel strategy and making shopping more convenient, Growel’s 1O1 mall introduced new services like curbside pick-up facility for online orders, live shopping services with dedicated assistants that help customer browse their favourite stores via video calls, and ‘Mall on Wheels’ where a selection of brands were brought to housing societies for convenience of shopping at the doorstep.”
“Additionally, we also did pop-up shops for brands in the open areas for customers who are apprehensive of stepping into stores (indoors). All these efforts helped us to stay connected with our customers and recover some amount of the lost sales due to the pandemic induced lockdown,” he added.
Kirtikar added that the prolonged lockdown and the gradual opening coincided with the time manpower was returning to Mumbai from their native villages.
Adding Stores, Categories
One could easily be excused for assuming that the pandemic would bring with it a literal death to offline retail but on the contrary a lot many brands opened new stores across malls and shopping centres in India. And this includes a mix of both international, national and local brands.
- Infiniti Mall saw the opening of Pizza Hut, Manbhavan, Mint Masala, Dyson and Just Omlette.
- At Growel’s 1O1, 15 new outlets signed up out of which My Glamm, Lotus Herbals and Bodymark have already opened. Other outlets include Gameloot, IDFC FIRST Bank ATM, Barbeque Nation, Barista, Ice-Cream Lab, Dinshaw’s, 99 Pancakes.
- Growel’s 1O1 under fit-outs at present are Globe Pharma, Urban Tadka, Aromas Café, Ministry of Eggs and Balbec Darbar.
- At Viviana Mall, within a month of the mall reopening, GKB Opticals and Jockey Woman opened their stores and post September, the mall has witnessed opening of 12 other stores.
As for the categories that have picked pace post the reopening, majority of the malls are witnessing an upsurge in shopping of electronics. Work from Home has led people to invest in better laptops, printers, phones and tablets but apart from that there has been a keen interest being seen in refurbishing of home appliances and furniture.
According to Arora, with people spending more time at home, it is only natural that they are paying more attention to things that they already have at their home and the things they are missing out on hence there has been an increasing demand in bigger and better television screens, air-conditioning units, sofas etc.
Kirtikar highlighted the interest in baking that has taken precedence for everyone since the lockdown which has eventually led to an unprecedented demand in ovens and microwaves. The prolonged lockdown infact has made people more aware of things they were missing out on or compromising with. This, in a way, was a blessing in disguise as post the lockdown opened, the shoppers went all out to satiate their need for better products and merchandise.
Mukesh Kumar talked about emergence in retail sector too stating, “Post reopening one sector which has fared well is Retail. The lockdown restrictions caused pent up demand in customers which has resulted in them purchasing more goods such as clothing, electronics, shoes etc. With people spending more time indoors they are also investing more on home décor and furniture. The restaurants and food-courts are also doing well and running to their full capacity.”
Dhanawade added, “Categories like CDIT (consumer electronics, Durables, IT, and telephones), salon, footwear, home started doing exceptionally well at Growel’s 1O1 Mall. As festive shopping started, the fashion and beauty categories also started to pick-up sales momentum steadily. Continual efforts of the mall towards introducing new initiatives and focusing on the existing ones helped the mall perform well and recover 80% (YoY) of their retail sales in the festive season.”
In terms of footfall trends, Arora finds no distinction. He explained, “During EOSS there is more influx of footfalls and this season too we witnessed a similar trend. Same goes for the footfalls as seen during festive period. So, the patterns hasn’t changed but the base has shrunk from 100 to may be 80%. Athleisure as a category is witnessing a good demand at part with what it was pre-COVID. Food business is also doing well, and this can be attributed to home delivery as well.”
The New Normal
As fear of a second lockdown looms large over Mumbai Metropolitan, the malls as well as the general shopper is being extra cautious to avoid the hassles of having have to remain indoors. Where adherence to wearing masks and maintaining social distance is being taken care of, people are still apprehensive of visiting movie theatres.
According to Arora and Kirtikar the lack of interest in visiting movie theatres could also attributed to the fact that there is not much of new content though one cannot deny the fact that movie goers are being extra cautious.
As for the most visible change in expectations / shopping patterns of customers walking in the malls, Kumar pointed out, “The shopping patterns and process of eating out has changed slightly in the post COVID era. People must adhere by the norms prescribed by the government. In terms of dining out, there are still restrictions and cap on the capacity of diners. Restaurants cannot go beyond the restricted capacity. Many retail stores have closed off their changing or trial rooms for safety and sanitary reasons. People visiting the mall are more aware of they want, and it continues being a place of retreat and spot to hang out with friends and family.”
Dhanawade further added to this saying, “The mindset and preference of touch and feel and checking out various items has changed. ‘Phygital’ retail is becoming the new reality where we see customers preferring to go to stores for some items and ordering others from home. There has been an increase interest in browsing at home before stepping out to buy. The entire discovery process has now increasingly become digital and retailers are quickly adapting to this.”
Though Dhanawade stated that as restrictions are easing, another reason why consumers are thronging to malls is the fact that they want to re-connect with family and friends over shopping and dining in a safe and hygienic environment. Since malls, he stated, are controlled spaces and follow stringent safety protocols, sometimes more than what is mandated by the authorities, people feel safe coming here.
Arora aptly stressed on the fact that malls provide an entire ecosystem for people to go out and spend their time. Visiting a mall is destination driven. People coming to shop may indulge in F&B and people walking into malls, specially to dine in, may shop. While mall timings were brought back to normal another 2 months post re-opening, the fact is that business is returning to its pre-COVID level.
“Amongst a host of other things, the lockdown period has taught each one the importance of rationalization. It gave us the time to reflect on our ecosystem. Human interaction is now being restricted and we are more technologically advanced. Malls are going as touchless as possible and shoppers too are extremely careful. People are sensitized to the situation and we do not see anyone flouting rules. To sum up on business and footfalls, our post COVID weekend footfalls are as much as pre-COVID weekday footfalls and this indeed is good sign,” Arora concluded.