Ever since the pandemic-led lockdown was first enforced in March 2020, the Shopping Centre Industry has been going through a lot of uncertainty. The three-and-a-half months of complete mall shutdown was tough for the industry revenue-wise. With zero cash flow, the industry was in the throes of a severe crisis. In June, when malls in some areas were finally given the green signal to open, it was with many provisos, which turned out to be restrictive for non-essential categories. Fashion became one of the biggest sufferers at that time.
In fact even globally, the spread of the Novel Coronavirus saw varied sectors across several economies practically coming to a halt. One of the hardest hit among these sectors has been apparel retail. For instance, sales at clothing & accessories stores in the US were down by 62.4 percent Y-o-Y in May 2020 while the same were down by 50.5 percent for the European zone. India too was in the same boat.
|RAI Survey: Retail Business in June 2020
As per a survey conducted by the Retailers Association of India (RAI) in June 2020, retailers in malls reported a huge 77 percent decline in business in the first 15 days of the month, reflecting low consumer sentiment in the country.
High Street Retail
High street retail witnessed a drop of 61 percent in the same period. Categories that were reported to have taken a beating included
In the month of June 2020:
Then came the months of August and September and took everyone completely by surprise. A huge incline was witnessed in malls, both in business as well as in footfall, as the turnout reached up to 70-80 percent in just three months of time.
Consumers who were working from home and stepping out only to buy essentials so far, finally stepped out to shop. Amidst home weariness, consumers also took to traveling – while adhering to safety protocols. Traveling meant finally investing in clothes and so casual wear and fashion accessories categories started gradually witnessing footfalls, which snowballed into a large number and which further converted into sales.
The festive season started in October and the Retail and Shopping Centre industries had high hopes from the next few months. Not unrealistic as it turns out, for the results so far have been quite encouraging. This will soon be followed by the wedding season, which will again provide a fillip to the apparel and accessories segments.
Consumer Sentiment in Malls
The fashion category has emerged triumphant as a survivor of the pandemic globally and in India, more so with the onset of the festival season which has ensured that despite the number of COVID cases soaring in the metro cities, consumers are hitting malls and high streets to shop.
“Customers are seen indulging in fast and casual fashion wear. Along with this, they have been observed spending more on necessities like grocery, hygiene essentials, health and wellness etc.
The lifestyle and fitness categories have been performing well. With people indulging more in health and fitness regimes, we have witnessed a demand for sports and athleisure wear. With the onset of the festive season we are anticipating a growth in ethnic and fusion wear categories across all malls,” says Naviin Ibhrampurkar, Head of Marketing and Corporate Communications, Inorbit Malls.
“With the festive season here, we are seeing both Luxury and DLF Shopping Malls doing better. In the fashion segment, our ethnic and festive wear brands are witnessing good conversions across properties. With exciting festive offers and deals, there has been an increase in footfalls weekend on weekend,” adds Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Retail.
According to Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director & CEO, Select CITYWALK, Select CITYWALK – which has always been the destination for all the fashion needs – is witnessing robust growth in the fashion and apparel outlets. “The shopping centre witnessed the launch of Decathlon post-reopening, while Zara recently reopened with a larger floor area. Also, EA7 has opened its first store in India at Select CITYWALK. EA7 Emporio Armani store is not just couture but focuses on athleisure collection too,” he says.
“During the festive quarter last year, we had achieved our highest retail sales since inception by a very good margin. However, all the progress we made last year has got significantly backtracked due to the pandemic. With the social distancing norms, it looks unlikely to achieve same or better footfalls. However we are confident that conversions overall will be high and we should be able to achieve at least 80 percent of sales as compared to last year (Y-o-Y) due to the grand offers and incentives, planned shopping, and the need for customers to get out of the houses to re-connect with their lifestyle,” says Sachin Dhanawade – Chief Operating Officer (COO) Retail & Real Estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Limited, which operates Growel’s 1O1 Mall.
“Since the reopening of the mall post lockdown, initially segments serving basic needs were getting the best response from customers – footwear, leisure wear, casual wear etc. All kids formats were doing especially well. From September onwards, we got the opportunity to grab the ‘Pujo Shopping’ consumer base. This has been an advantage and sale booster for almost all fashion categories and sub-categories. Almost all formats have achieved targets, and a few have surplus Y-o-Y sales,” states Arijit Chatterjee, COO, Junction Mall.
Since reopening, Indian shopping malls have seen footfalls growing on a weekly basis. Shopping Centre News Bureau had previously reported how the graph of footfalls has gradually increased pan India. We had also reported the consumer response from Day 1 in various malls. In June, most malls received a footfall of 2,000-3,000 on a daily basis which has rapidly increased to 70-80 percent by October.
“Since reopening, all our malls have shown consistent growth in footfall and consumption. Malls that opened earlier have shown promising growth with categories reaching their previous numbers. Inorbit Vadodara has given us the highest recovery, followed by Malad and Cyberabad. Vashi opened a month ago and so we are expecting a gradual increase,” says Ibhrampurkar.
“We are witnessing footfalls like 50 percent of pre-COVID days across all our malls. A major contribution to footfalls in the last few months has been coming from the fashion brands followed by F&B outlets,” says Bector.
For Select CITYWALK, post lockdown the most visitors were serious buyers and the footfall they received is about 55 percent of the total footfall.
Growel’s 1O1 Mall doesn’t foresee a great rise in footfalls as compared to last year due to the pandemic. “However, we are confident that the business recovery will happen at a fast pace due to the grand offers and incentives, planned shopping, and the need for customers to get out of the houses to re-connect with people and get back to a semblance of their pre-pandemic lifestyle. We don’t divulge category wise data, however, overall we have witnessed a steady rise in footfalls since re-opening. On a month-on-month comparison, Sep’20 saw footfalls improving by 40 percent as compared to Aug’20, and in Oct’20 footfalls further increased by 71 percent as compared to the previous month of Sep’20. As the Food & Beverages reopened in October’20 we saw a significant impact on business picking up by 66 percent as compared to last year (Y-o-Y),” says Dhanawade.
For Junction Mall, the footfall in June, July and August was around 2,000 average footfall per day in fashion categories which grew to around 7,000 average footfall per day in September and October. The major reason responsible was the festival season shopping which boosted the walk-ins and sale.
Business Graph: Pattern
The overall business graph for the fashion category in malls witnessed a lot of ups and down in this cycle. The cycle didn’t have a uniform pattern for different malls as most struggled for business. Overall the month of September showed good business recovery for Inorbit malls. The brand saw an inflow of serious shoppers. Now with the customer confidence building up, the mall is expecting the business to improve even further.
“In current times, consumers are looking for good deals and value offers from brands. Hence, attractive offers planned by our marketing teams across all DLF Malls, are helping in gaining consumer attention and in turn increase sales. For the same, we have launched various shopping campaigns that have received a positive response from our shoppers. For instance, at DLF Avenue Saket, we are hosting a mega lucky draw in which the winner gets a Mahindra THAR. Consumers who shop for more than Rs 25,000 can take part in the lucky draw and this has been devised keeping the affordability and current consumer sentiment in mind,” says Bector.
“With the festive season at its peak, most categories are doing 65 – 70 percent revenue conversion so far. The formal clothes and shoes category is still struggling, but we are hoping this will improve after Diwali as we wait for the wedding season to begin,” says Sharma.
“Sales of the fashion segment have been gradually rising post reopening. During the several months of lockdown, going out of the house wasn’t an option. People veered more towards comfort wear. Now as life outside the house is slowly gaining momentum, the sales have been climbing up as well,” added Dhanwade.
“In initial months, categories like footwear, leisure wear, casual wear for all men, women and kids were in top in the graph, but as festival-related purchases started by the end of September, all categories started performing. Currently all segments of fashion are doing similar kind of business,” says Chatterjee.
Rashmi Sen, Group COO – Malls, The Phoenix Mills Ltd said that luxury as a category was initially a very slow starter, but it picked up really very fast. “Actually, we were never worried about this category as we have ‘A-list’ of consumers and catchment around all the malls, so we knew our consumers will return. The sale in the luxury category has doubled since re-opening. To everyone’s surprise, it has over and out-performed many other categories by far. We are quite hopeful that this trend will continue as people will not be travelling overseas much due to the travel restrictions. Therefore, those consumers will look forward to shopping malls having those premium brands in India. We have also provided lots of services to our luxury brands as well which worked quite efficiently,” she explained.
Changes in Consumer Behaviour
As far as change in consumer behavior is concerned, different malls had more or less similar observations. The pandemic saw the consumer turning into a serious and focused buyer.
“Customers are still hesitant and holding back on visiting malls which are perceived as crowded places. There is controlled spending and more emphasis on essential buying,” says Ibhrampurkar.
“Amidst the ongoing pandemic, there has been a significant shift in the patterns of consumers shopping. With their key focus on safety, it becomes imperative to provide a safe and hassle-free shopping experience. There has been a rise in contactless and self-checkout experience ensuring minimal direct contact,” explains Bector.
“Consumers have become serious buyers now, considering that they don’t engage in window-shopping and prefer buying and shopping all that they want at the shopping centre. Today, consumers have pre-knowledge about the services and products they want to shop for, which makes their shopping experience easier once they are either online or offline shopping. Customers are appreciating the new initiatives set by the shopping centre for a seamless experience and are opting for these, right from delivery services / curbside pickup / personal shopper and our online services like a what’s app-based Concierge which answers general questions on visiting hours and protocols and connects customers to in-store brands,” explains Sharma.
“Since the pandemic has hit the country, the mentality of consumers has changed in several ways. Customers are not stepping out of their homes unless necessary, customers who would like to go to the store, want to feel safe. Their behaviour towards touching and checking out various items has changed. Hygiene has become prime, especially for trying out clothes and even cosmetics. Customers now come well researched on what they want to buy and are avoiding trials as much as possible. Online researching and offline buying is becoming the new truth, making omnichannel the new reality of fashion brands,” stated Dhanawade.
“The purchase pattern is same as before in terms of sharing his/her pocket in various categories. The only change which has been observed is their average time spending for shopping which is reduced as compared to pre-COVID times. Now, consumers spend less time than before. It’s more pre-planned and scope of impulse has reduced,” explains Chatterjee.
Safety Measures & Social Distancing Norms for Fashion Stores
Inorbit Malls: The anchor brand at Inorbit Malad & Inorbit Cyberabad, H&M too has been working towards offering a safe shopping environment.
“Welcoming our customers to the stores has been a great experience! At H&M Health and Safety of our colleagues and customers is our top priority. We are closely following the guidelines and recommendations shared by the local authorities to secure a safe shopping experience for our customers and colleagues. Some of the precautionary measures we are undertaking include regular temperature checks, social distancing in the store, frequent handwashing with soap & sanitisation, wearing face masks and gloves and ensuring the store is being sanitized at regular intervals wherein all touched surface areas like door handles, cash tills, fitting rooms are being sanitized frequently. We are using an ‘Occupancy app’ in all our reopened stores that allows us to keep a track of number of customers in the store at any given point and are thus able to regulate and ensure all social distancing guidelines are being followed at all times. We are also following a return and exchange policy of 30 days, so customers are welcome to try the garments at home and return them in case required. We also have the option of contactless payments for ‘tap and pay’ transactions below Rs 2,000 on our payment terminals as per Government guidelines. We continue to monitor the developments of COVID-19 and we are actively following the guidelines and recommendations as outlined by local authorities and WHO to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our customers and teams,” says a spokesperson from H&M in the mall.
DLF Malls: At DLF Malls, all requisite safety protocols that include screening measures at the entry points and social distancing norms are taking place. Wearing a mask is mandatory for everyone. The mall is closely monitoring and checking up on the health of all their employees. Further, they are implementing systematic sanitization within mall premises
Select CITYWALK: Post the unlock, the shopping centre had to bring changes to ensure visitors safety and for the same, the mall developed markings for social distancing on escalators; whereas elevators operate on a limited capacity, with a maximum of 4 people to an elevator. The same was implemented in retail outlets. Markings in each store are placed to ensure social distancing norms. These measures are also followed at the food court, with ensuring a reduced seating space. There are proper markings at counters and cash registers to stop crowding, plexiglass shields at all checkout points. Sanitisation is maintained across all public areas and retail outlets, and F&B spaces as well every 30-60 minutes.
Growel’s 1O1 Mall: The mall has been at the forefront of implementing rigorous safety measures and has been very successful in making the premises 100 percent safe for both – staff and customers. Among the various safety measure, Growel’s 1O1 has installed UV lights in the baggage scanners to disinfect bags at entry points and thermal cameras to track footfalls and movement throughout the mall. All contact points have been made contactless like contactless parking tickets dispenser, elevators with sensor buttons, washrooms with sensor-based taps and soap dispensers, and potable waterspouts are also sensor based and contactless.
‘Social Distancing Officers’ and ‘special staff force’ is deployed throughout the mall to assist customers and ensure social distancing. For emergencies, the mall has isolation rooms, Ambulance and Doctor on call service, and formally trained First Aid Certified front line staff members available at all time,” added Dhanawade.
Technological Innovations Implemented
“Today, we are exploring décor with tech integration such as use of projection mapping, motion activation, light programming, sensor-activation and making the decor truly experiential. In the new normal virtual events and engagements, such as a live concert on a digital platform with a full virtual walk-through of the mall wherein your favourite artist is performing on stage with a grand set up and decor, just like what you see at a live concert, but this time enjoying it from the comfort of your home or a virtual tour of the store to try out the latest fashion collection through a 3D mapping software is sure to attract a customer,” says Ibhrampurkar.
“We launched new features on our DLF Malls Lukout app to provide a hassle-free experience to our consumers. With a key focus on contactless experience, there is an option of “The Lukout Closet”, a digital wardrobe that will give a complete immersive visual experience of the curated trendiest looks at the mall. Further, with an exclusive DLF Malls Shop Assist service, it connects consumers with the brand’s store manager directly and shoppers can also enjoy live video calling and virtual store navigation with this feature on the app,” says Bector.
Select’s Sharma feels that consumers have accustomed to the new normal; their shopping priorities and patterns have changed. “As a preferred retail destination, Select CITYWALK kept itself ahead of the curve of the ever-evolving consumer behaviour and changing dynamics. With their intent to offer safety, convenience, and comfort at the same time, they launched many new initiatives as a dimension to their engagement with their consumers, with a seamless integration on the online and offline experience.
As part of the new services portfolio, Select CITYWALK offers concierge Services for all queries, Contactless Ordering & Home Delivery Services, Personal Shopper Service, Curbside Pickup and have introduced Online Shopping Guide as well.”
Making shopping more convenient, Growel’s 1O1 mall has introduced new services like Live shopping services with dedicated assistants that help customer browse their favourite stores via video calls to book their shopping, and ‘Mall on Wheels’ where a selection of brands can be brought to the Housing Societies for convenience of shopping at doorstep.
“Additionally, we also do pop-ups for brands in the open areas of the mall for customers who are apprehensive of stepping into stores (indoors). Just like the mall, retailers too have been taking initiatives towards implementing digital alternatives. Various retailers are encouraging video-call-shopping and WhatsApp Marketing. Through these means, customers can video-call the retailers, have a look at the merchandise and then make their purchase. Many players have also started encouraging contactless payment methods to maintain safety, while still accepting traditional cash payments. We have also introduced contactless billing and ordering by Zoop application in the food court.
We will also be introducing technologies like Digital software’s for Customer Relationship management, feedback management for customers as well as retailers, Retailer Satisfaction Index, Operations checklist digitisation, interactive LED pods for navigation, feedback management and advertising, among others,” explains Dhanawade.
As far as Junction Mall is concerned, Chatterjee points out that
- More brands have started promoting Omnichannel concept for their respective brands.
- Many brands have started interacting with customers via video calls and ensuring contact less home delivery.
- Few brands have started encouraging customers with pre-booking time slots for visiting particular store.
The recovery period for malls has been steady. Tier II & III malls have been doing quite good and slowly Tier I malls have also picked up the pace. Most malls have been predicting the recovery to happen in coming three-six months if there is no further lockdown. Inorbit malls has reached 65-70 percent of their last year consumption. Festival season has seen an encouraging start and the brand is expecting good growth ahead.
“DLF has reached close to 60 percent sales of pre-COVID days. The sales growth has increased to 35 percent during this festive season. “And If we don’t see the second COVID wave, then we are hoping by year-end we should recover up to 80 percent. But returning to normalcy is a long-driven path and it is correlated to the Coronavirus vaccine. The current sentiments indicate a promising festive season and a New Year. We are positive that there will be a substantial increase by the end of the year. The industry to revive back to the pre-COVID level may take up a year,” says Bector.
“The fashion industry was hit hard because of the pandemic, getting back to normalcy considering the business and revenue it took the segment quite some time. With the festive and the wedding season, brands have now started generating visible sales and soon with the complete unlocks the fashion segment will top the charts. In the current times, it is too soon to predict the revival of the industry. Post the successive unlocks we hope things turn fruitful for retailers across and it helps in increasing the competition and enhances the finances for all in the coming times,” states Sharma.
“On a YoY comparison, we are hoping to achieve 80 percent of overall sales of last year. Categories like CDIT (consumer electronics, Durables, IT, and telephones) have already crossed last year’s numbers and are doing exceedingly well. Salon, footwear, home related categories are also performing well. Fashion though had a slow start, but with Diwali approaching that too along with Beauty has started to pick up steadily. Looking at the present trend of planned and need based shopping, we believe that recovery for malls is achievable in the next six months. The re-opening of Cinemas will add a further impetus to the overall sales. We are hopeful FEC permissions will come in soon, which will boost overall shopping activity at malls,” says Dhanawade.
“Considering the push in sale due to festive season and upcoming marriage season, we may conclude that if not 100 percent, but atleast the market has returned to 90 percent normalcy as far as business and revenue for fashion segment is concerned. We got an impressive boost in sale due to ‘Durga Puja’ and expecting high that marriage season will help in recovery for fashion and other segments as well. Although we have reached to almost 90% normalcy, we think for all categories to consider, it will take 1st quarter of next financial year to recover. AW EOSS 20-21 will boost the market to recover in addition,” states Chatterjee.