Ananya Pathak
Points of View

Will shopping malls make a comeback?

Will the shopping malls - a blend of restaurants and theatres - re-enter our lives? And, what will the new avatar be like?

As India slowly begins to 'unlock' or reopen, it looks like the ‘old normal’ isn't coming back anytime soon. While local retailers and e-commerce platforms seem to gradually pick up business, shopping malls don't expect normality in the near future.

For once, long queues for daily groceries at your neighbourhood 'Sharma shop’ are more likely than the anxious names on the waiting list outside a fancy restaurant in Delhi’s Khan Market. In the 'new normal', branded ‘Sale’ banners in front of lavish showrooms will be overshadowed by Amazon’s discount on groceries.

Even though the government, on June 8, allowed the re-opening of non-essential shops, including malls, hotels and restaurants, after almost three months, for the shopping malls, the road ahead is quite long.

A recent survey by Retailers Association of India (RAI) reveals that 70 per cent of the retailers in the country expect business recovery to happen in more than six months, while 20 per cent feel it will take over 12 months. The industry's cash inflow has come to a standstill, while fixed operating costs remain intact.

The organised retail sector has incurred losses to the tune of ₹90,000 crore in the last two months, claims an article published in The Hindu in the last week of May. Revenues have been nil, but expenses continue to mount: EMIs, rent, maintenance, staff salaries, etc.

As the sector deals with the dent caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, we reached out to industry executives dealing with this crisis first-hand to check what would be the new rules of engagement as far as the shopping malls go, when (and if) it makes a comeback.

Edited excerpts:

Gitanjali Singh, VP – marketing at Select CITYWALK

We are hopeful that once the COVID-19 situation is under control, shopping malls will make a comeback for the simple reason that consumers need experiences and engagement with the brands they prefer. It will take time for shopping malls to bring customers back to the stores, as people are now concerned about their well-being, but then with increasing confidence, revival will happen.

Gitanjali Singh
Gitanjali Singh

By understanding customer behaviour, shopping malls are creating a new space for them to shop; focusing on sanitisation guidelines. The trust of being inside a safe space, advanced use of technology, and being serviced by staff who follow precautions, the shopping malls will remain the epicentre of preference.

In terms of the new rules, it is a 'new normal' for sure, for both the brands and the customers. We do foresee a lot more interaction and engagement through the use of technology, as brands will use new ways to showcase themselves to the customers.

Physical retail will change, and so will the way the high street works. For instance, at Select CITYWALK, we have incorporated personal shopping, curbside pick up, and home deliveries for people for greater ease and convenience.

The direct customer services through WhatsApp ordering will surely bring in the new wave of shopping experience for the customers. We also plan to introduce digital catalogue for brands to make the process smoother and seamless.

Alok Tandon, CEO, INOX Leisure

Cinema, since its inception, has been the biggest contributor to the ‘experience economy’ for the past 100 years, and will continue to do so forever. There is no doubt that COVID has challenged the passion for cinema, which is prevalent in our country.

Cinema lovers have remained under-served on entertainment for this period, and we know that they are yearning to step out, socialise, and get entertained on their favourite entertainment medium, which is cinema.

Alok Tandon
Alok Tandon

We have complete faith that the same age-old passion of the movie lovers will make them come out in huge numbers and throng cinema halls.

We have used the lockdown phase to determine various resumption scenarios, and worked out robust plans for ensuring hygiene, as well as distancing.

We will remain completely respectful towards the concerns of our guests, and also understand that their faith and confidence in our preparedness on preventive measures will play a key role towards the same.

We are looking at the 'new normal' soon going back to the 'old normal', which resembles loud cheers in the auditorium, and the usual hustle and bustle of gangs of friends and families in our lobbies.

Barun Prabhakar, marketing head, Liberty Shoes

COVID-19 eclipsed the daily lifestyle and behavioural patterns of the customers all around the globe, leading to so many overnight changes. And now, the introduction of ‘lockdown’ patterns by the government has forced the consumers to change their shopping habits.

The footfall at the physical retail stores is unendingly decreasing due to COVID, as the stores are shut due to the lockdown, and customers are heading towards online purchase more. Those who have spent their lives shopping on the high street are now being forced to adopt the new style of shopping through e-commerce more with socially distanced deliveries to their doors.

Barun Prabhakar
Barun Prabhakar

As the market is experiencing a whole new set of behaviour amongst the customer, there is a sense of scare, and cash-reserve mindset is noticed all around. It will take a tough effort to make the walk-ins.

Meanwhile, the consumers have started embracing the 'new normal' and, therefore, the retail stores will not look the same as they used to before the pandemic.

Going forward, the high street market will be more inclined towards creating a safe shopping experience for their customers. Cautious steps have been taken to fulfill this by frequent sanitisation at the stores, mandatory temperature checks, and usage of masks and gloves, along with online payments.

With the easing of lockdown, the stores are opening now. The high street market holds great potential to survive, and should be ready with its backup plan. The online fulfillment is incapable of serving much of the market, which will be forcing people back to the high street when they are allowed to.

Pawan Sarda, group head – digital, marketing and e-commerce at Future Group

High street are part of our social fabric. When you want to go out, where do you really go? In India, we don't have as many parks, or adventures to go after.

Shopping is a part of the ritual. It’s a social aspect for us, and not just transaction. Obviously, the pandemic has posed certain layers into the consumers mind, but I don’t think it is going to go away.

Pawan Sarda
Pawan Sarda

I personally believe the real sense of omni-channel will come in India now. It’s on the customers to decide if they want to pick up a product from the store, or shop for it online. They are also being presented with options to shop online, and pick the product up from the store.

One major impact of the pandemic on the consumer behaviour is that they are limiting their shopping to only essentials. This is seen and felt throughout categories – be it fashion, food, or any other. Only time will tell how this is going to subside, and will the 'old normal' resurface.