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How malls are geared to woo back customers with a re-imagined experience

COVID-19 has changed consumer behaviour and expectations. The lockdown has had a transformational effect on business with disruptions in both supply and demand side. It has also led to rapid transition to online shopping. Even with the unlocking process and easing of several restrictions across the country, health and safety concerns are keeping customers away from physical stores. Consumers are in a constant flux of two opposing forces − concerns over visiting enclosed spaces (such as retail stores or malls), and at same time, the desire to move out and interact with one another.

The Government allowed the re-opening of malls in quite a few states August onwards. Consumers have mixed reaction to the reopening of malls. Bhavana, a shopaholic from Andheri, told Adgully, “With my experience in shopping malls, I could say that it will take time to adapt to the whole situation. But with all necessary precautions, it has been easy and safe to shop.” Mohit from Sion, too, said that he would prefer going to malls if proper safety measures, including sanitization and social distancing, are taken by the malls. On the other hand, Aman Dubey from Jangpura Extension said, is open to shopping in malls, especially some products under the essential category which are not available at the local stores. “I would also like to mention that reopening of malls will give a boost to the economy,” he added.

Omnicom Media Group’s (OMG) report, titled ‘COVID-19 - Gearing Up for the Festive Season’, states that respondents have said shopping at a mall will decrease by 65 per cent, while only 21 per cent of the respondents said it would increase.

But how are mall owners’ sentiments on the reopening of malls in the COVID era?

Sachin Dhanawade, COO, Retail & Real Estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Ltd, informed Adgully, “We have already seen footfalls improve by 40 per cent in September 2020, as compared to August 2020. Similarly, conversions have shown an improvement by 20 per cent in September (M-o-M). As food courts re-opened earlier this month in Maharashtra, we are expecting footfalls to further improve this month. On a Y-o-Y comparison, we are presently at 60 per cent of sales of last year and are expecting to reach 80 per cent in November with festive shopping picking up and cinema re-openings. Categories like CDIT (consumer electronics, Durables, IT, and telephones), salon, footwear, home are doing exceptionally well at Growel’s 1O1 Mall at present. As festive shopping has started, we see the fashion & beauty categories also picking-up sales momentum steadily.”

Elaborating on their recovery strategy, Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, Inorbit Malls, said, “We stayed active on our social pages. We prefer showing customers exactly what is available inside our stores and execute this by inviting and collaborating with the city’s best influencers. A few other engagement initiatives include Shop & Win opportunities, contests and virtual parties. Ensuring that the customers visit the mall for a fantastic Inorbit experience has always been our topmost goal.”

Adding to this, a spokesperson for Korum Mall said, “We, at Korum, value our patrons and always strive to develop a deeper bond with them. We are constantly communicating with our customers through our social media pages, be it informing them regarding the best deals and offers, Mall Services updates and more. Ease and convenience to hang out with friends and family and shop will continue to be fundamental to the Korum experience beyond COVID-19. Customers have expressed satisfaction at the precautionary measures taken by the mall for their safety when they visited for their essential shopping. The customers are elated to come back to their favourite mall to catch up on all the lost time and pending festive shopping enjoying the festive offerings and discounts offered by their favourite brands and Korum.”

Safety and hygiene has become paramount in this new normal and malls are taking various precautions to ensure that their customers find a safe environment to shop in. Rima Kirtikar, Chief Marketing Officer, Viviana Mall, informed, “The first thing that people see is how safe is it, if they see it is safe, they come back. So, we are focusing on ‘How safe we are’, for which we have released a few videos wherein we are showing how our customers should be ready when they come to our mall. People visiting our mall will need to download the Arogya Setu app and scan when they enter. We have bag scanners, every person entering the mall is being sanitized, and then we have Social Distancing tracks which we have created in the mall, where people have to walk in one particular passage so that they don’t bump into each other. Apart from this, we have placed stickers outside the mall, which tell about the number of customers allowed at a time. Another major thing that we are doing is frequently sanitizing all the escalator handles.”

With cinema halls and food courts being allowed to re-open recently, malls are looking at increase in footfalls, especially amid the festive season. Speaking about the impact of movie halls on malls, Arjun Gehlot, Director, Ambience Mall, said, “Watching a movie in a theatre has an aura of its own and I don’t think anything can replace that. Increasing footfalls in shopping centres corroborate this fact and soon multiplexes would also see an upsurge in the attendance. As regards going digital, we have considered it to a certain extent and have implemented a Virtual shopping feature in our malls, which was well received by our customers and gave them another way of shopping their favourite brands. However, the main concept of a brick & mortar business is to provide tangible experience to the shopper, that is, the 5 senses of the customers are satisfied when they come to the mall. We still believe in the experience of coming to a mall and shopping, there is no replacement for that in the future as well. We won’t be hesitant to apply any relevant digital/ virtual shopping service, provided it doesn’t counter the concept of a shopping Centre.”

So, how will shopping at a mall look like in the new normal? Deloitte & FICCI’s report, titled, ‘FMCG and retail REBOOT’, presents an indicative new normal journey in a shopping mall for consumers where the physical channel has been re-imagined and complemented with digital experience.

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