It has been almost two years since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the industries are still grappling to overcome the impacts of the subsequent lockdowns. The retail sector has started picking up again but shopping centers, food service, and entertainment sectors are finding ways to win consumer confidence back.
The pandemic has impacted the way the mall industry functions. Earlier, when we used to talk about malls, we used to talk about 4 pillars - anchor stores, FnB, beauty, and hypermarket. However, after the pandemic, e-commerce has also started playing a big role in how the retail industry functions.
“The last 18 months have been a worse time for the entire industry, but that's changing, and in the next 2-3 months, we will be back to normal. After the first lockdown, we could not recover much till December, but after the second lockdown, the industry has already recovered 60-70 percent. Hopefully, in the coming few months, we will get back 100 percent of our business. The major stakeholders in malls are their customers and retailers. The relationship between malls and retailers has gone deeper now. The kind of support we have given to each other last year has changed the scenario. Secondly, we are open to new formats, and we are joining hands with online brands; we also got omnichannel brands, we are also talking to Amazon and Flipkart to have last-mile fulfillment centers in malls. It is true that offline and online are merging. Coming to customers, both malls and retailers are joining hands to give customers a better experience. Now it's not only about buying the products; it's also how you buy that product. It's encouraging that some brands want more space in the mall because we thought that brands might reduce the space to save the rental after the pandemic. The intimacy with consumers has also gone multifold. We are also helping retailers with the data of consumers as in what they are buying and how frequently they are buying. With the help of retailers and the initiatives we are taking, we'll take the growth to the next level,” says Manoj Singh, Cluster Director, Nexus Malls.
“This pandemic has been bad, but it also has given us a lot of opportunities. We started new initiatives and made ourselves more relevant to customers. We are available online through our website, Netmeds, Ajio, and more recently through Flipkart. Apart from that, we started home ideas where a customer has to call us, and we will go to their house to help them with ideas. We would bring specific merchandise or take them through our website to help them choose. In our stores, we have changed the look and feel to be more inviting. All this happened because we had time to sit back, think, and decide what to do next. We are doing this to build trust with the customer,” adds Siddharth Kukreja, AJM Real Estate, Reliance Vision Express Private Limited.
“After the pandemic, we saw new demands being created. People were working from home, so the continuous use of mobile and laptops led to a sudden surge in demand for blue-rays protector glasses. We started banking on this, and it was a hot seller for us during the pandemic. One luxury we had was that we came under the essentials and were allowed to open for a few hours. Because of the demand from all the genders we offered more colors in various ranges. There was a surge in demand for kids' glasses as well. Now, we are going big on the anti-bacterial range of our glasses and lenses,” he further adds.
Changing Consumer Behavior
The pandemic has impacted consumer behavior to a great extent and in return, it has impacted their preferences. Earlier the categories that used to be the fastest-selling, have to take a step back and new categories have emerged which have become the favorite for consumers.
“One thing that has changed is the time consumers spend in a mall. Earlier if it was three-and-a-half-hour, now mostly it is an hour or less because cinemas are still not completely open. The upswing is also there, earlier if an average spend of a consumer was Rs 600-700, now it is more. Consumers are not loitering in the mall anymore; they are focused on what they want to buy and from where when they come. Coming to categories, due to work from home culture the demand for gadgets has grown. The beauty category has moved to the skincare segment and is doing well along with sports and footwear categories. All of us have changed our lifestyle to move towards a healthy lifestyle, so the focus on healthcare has gone up. Even when malls were shut, food delivery was allowed. Therefore, the food category had done exceptionally well. But once malls were open, customers started coming to the mall sometimes for food, so it has pulled up. Fashion didn't do well last year, but it is also picking up this year. We are monitoring these changes, and brands are also responding to them. Hopefully, by summer, we will be crossing our pre-COVID numbers,” says Singh.
Technology is taking the industry by storm these days. Brands are building tech-enabled stores by integrating technologies like ML, AI, VR to add to the consumer experience.
“Customers can virtually try on our products from our website, and now we are taking this to our stores. For instance, if you go to our Jio World Drive store and try on one glass, then different colors of the same glass will be shown while you see yourself on screen. Second, we have integrated our services with the Reliance Loyalty Program, and we are using that to leverage consumers to come back and shop with us. These are some things we are currently doing,” states Kukreja.
“With the hunger for data, we have started certain initiatives. Everyone has heard about FasTag and how they have made highway toll payments seamless and easy. So we thought of doing something similar in our malls. We have experimented with this in our Chandigarh mall and will soon be implementing it at other malls. The same chip will be used with the same boomerang features, and the money will be deducted from the customers’ accounts. We will be integrating the QR code feature in all our food courts and restaurants. With respect to machine learning and AI, soon we will be launching a loyalty program which will be that a consumer has to scan the invoice from their mobile phone app through which their purchase will be recorded, and they get a few points which can be converted into rewards. We are exploring tech in all different segments of our malls that could be leveraged in the future,” adds Singh.