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Understanding customers is key for a winning brand mix: Sameep Pathak of Oberoi Realty

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Sameep Pathak, chief executive officer-malls, Oberoi Realty, sheds light on the mall’s successful strategies, the significance of department stores and their commitment to sustainability

Mumbai: Malls have become more than just shopping destinations. They are now bustling hubs of entertainment, leisure, and social interactions. Offering a diverse range of brands and experiences under one roof, malls attract millions of visitors seeking convenience and enjoyment. Among numerous retail centres across the nation, Oberoi Mall, located in Goregaon, is a popular shopping destination in Mumbai.

Owned by the real estate development company Oberoi Realty Ltd., the Oberoi Mall offers almost 5.52 lakh sq. ft. of fashion, food and leisure. It celebrated its 15th anniversary in April 2023 and is currently planning to expand its footprint in Mumbai by opening a 10,00,000 sq. ft. mall in Borivali, currently codenamed Sky City Mall.

In an exclusive interview with IndiaRetailing, Sameep Pathak, chief executive officer- malls, Oberoi Realty, sheds light on the mall’s successful strategies, the significance of department stores, their commitment to sustainability and how the mall navigates the digital era while encouraging the value of in-person experiences.

Edited excerpts…

Has the company established any international collaborations or partnerships to bring unique brands or experiences to the Indian market?

The partnerships are in terms of retail space and are more done by Reliance, Aditya Birla, Tata and Inditex. These major group brands work to secure retail space within various malls. Through such collaborations, international brands have been introduced to the Indian market. For instance, Tata played a key role in bringing Zara, an international brand, to the country, thereby enabling the presence of international outlets and brands in Indian malls.

What is the ratio of brand mix in your mall? What percentage is  Indian and what is international brands?

It is about 30% international and 70% is national. The idea is not to add international or national brands but to offer what the market really needs. You really need to understand the customer and accordingly have the brand mix so that it becomes a winning story for everyone. So, with the current 30:70 ratio, it’s quite a healthy mix, wherein we are able to have almost all the categories. I am not limiting the categories to only department stores, but whether the mall has all the categories which cater to a customer. So, malls are a big take on a weekend outing. And if your brand mix is healthy, that means you’re catering to what you are adding to the consumption of the retailer as well as to the overall consumption.

How has the composition of the mall changed over the years?

With its current 0.5 million sq. ft. size, the mall plans to expand its offerings by adding 20-21 new brands. This move comes as the brand Central, occupying approximately 45,000 sq. ft., is moving out. The objective is to provide customers with more reasons to visit the mall and to enhance the variety of categories available.

What are the key factors considered when selecting brands for the mall? How does the company ensure a diverse mix of retailers that cater to different consumer needs? What strategy do you follow for brand mix?

To assess a brand’s strength, we focus on its deep-rootedness, adaptability to customer needs and trends, and whether customer-centricity remains a core aspect of its operations and strategies. By prioritizing these factors, we ensure that we cater effectively to customers’ requirements, making them satisfied with our selections.

What are the technologies and services you introduced lately in the mall?

We have a successful loyalty program called UNO, where customers earn points while shopping and can redeem them against brand vouchers within the mall. Recently, we introduced electronic wheelchairs with joysticks for easy manoeuvring. We are also working on technology-driven platforms for customer convenience, such as a smart food-court solution that helps customers to get information on table availability. Additionally, we aim to incorporate technology in the retail experience, like body-type recognition for trying on clothes without waiting in trial rooms. So, these are the few technology expectations we are doing in the mall.

How do you incorporate eco-friendly practices into the mall’s operations? Are there any specific sustainability initiatives the company has undertaken?

We are very conscious towards the environment and as a mall and are equally reflecting those efforts. We are a lead platinum-certified business and hold a LEED Platinum certification. We provide free packets of manure to customers, which we generate through organic waste management. Apart from that, we also ensure that we operate our sewage treatment plants and the usage of that water for horticulture and flushing. We also collaborate with NGOs to explore in-house compost preparation. Moreover, we encourage metro usage by offering convenient two and four-wheeler parking facilities, contributing to a greener environment through increased public transport utilization. Recently, we also encouraged our customers to use the metro line by providing two and four-wheeler parking so that they can hop into a metro, do their work, come back in the evening, take their vehicle and go back home. It will add to the environment as we are encouraging more usage of public transport.

With the growing demand for entertainment areas/zones in shopping centres, what percentage have you allocated for the same? Are you planning to increase the percentage in the future?

Yes, a family entertainment centre is something which is gaining a lot of popularity and is seeing foot traffic from across age groups. Currently, we have almost 7-8% of our total area as an FEC (family entertainment centre). We want to increase that area and at the same time, we feel it’s the need of the hour and the customer and even because of traction coming in from almost every age group.

How does the company stay relevant and competitive in the digital era when online shopping is on the rise? What strategies are implemented to attract customers who prefer shopping online?

Online and offline will now go hand in hand. There has been a behavioural shift, especially after Covid. Last-minute purchase categories attract customers to online platforms, but the warmth and experiential aspect of offline shopping is unparallel. While digital platforms offer convenience and images, the in-person experience holds unique value, just like visiting a place in person instead of viewing it on Google Earth. Offline shopping also appeals to those less tech-savvy, such as senior citizens, who appreciate conventional methods. As an organization, we introduced Fun Bunch, an initiative to engage senior citizens through enjoyable activities and voucher distributions, emphasizing the significance of offline experiences.

Are there any upcoming projects or expansion plans for the company?

Our upcoming expansion plan is focused on Borivali, where we are developing a mixed-use development featuring a 1 million plus sq. ft. mall. This will be an organic growth to this vertical of Oberoi Realty. Currently, we do not have plans to take it outside Mumbai as of now.

Oberoi Mall, Goregaon in Mumbai

Department stores in malls are one of the biggest generators of revenue and footfall. Tell us about the significant impact of these stores in malls.

Department stores play a crucial role in every mall for several reasons. They have a significant footprint and strategic placement, driving footfall distribution across the mall. The concept of shop-in-shop within department stores allows for the presence of popular brands, even if they don’t have full-fledged outlets, catering to various customer segments. Department stores also cater to customers of all age groups, offering a healthy mix of options. While some malls prioritize anchor tenants with larger square footage, having a department store presence remains a key driver for success.

What percentage of department stores have been dedicated in the Oberoi Mall?

Currently, department stores occupy around 35% of the mall’s space. Due to recent changes, one department store has moved out, leaving approximately 45,000 sq. ft. of space. In this area, the mall is introducing 20 to 21 new outlets to enhance its retail offerings.

If you have a healthy mix of square footage allotted to the anchor/department stores, between 20% to 35% occupancy in the mall, it is a healthy sign. However, the overall square footage of the mall is equally important and depends on the company’s asset strategy and the catchment area’s needs. Meeting the catchment requirements is the key to success in this aspect.

How do you create a balance in case of multiple department stores in the mall?

Department stores are relevant, and their key differentiators lie in having their own labels that set them apart. Additionally, these stores house specific shop-in-shop brands, unless their leasing strategy involves excluding them. As a result, department stores serve as a strong solution as they incorporate these brands within their outlets.

International/national/regional, which brands get more preference as far as positioning in the mall is concerned?

All department stores are doing phenomenally well. The retail story of the country itself is promising. As far as preferences are concerned, it’s about the value addition they bring to the overall retail mix of the mall. So, that you are able to put a take on the expectation of a customer in its entirety. There are no preferred or not-so-preferred retail partners, everyone is a preferred partner is just what is the positioning of the model and accordingly, we should be we actually pick and choose and then make them a part of our retail development.

What’s the average footfall of the mall during weekdays and weekends?

Our annual footfall count is approximately 6.5 million, with 40% on weekdays and 60% on weekends. Weekends witness around 28,000 footfalls, while weekdays see about 18,000 visitors.

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