Walking the Mall

India is rapidly becoming the land of malls, each one competing in size (at least) with the previous one. Each one is getting higher end than the previous one. DLF Emporia in a way set the trend, and  then the about to open at Phoenix Mills, in Mumbai. Both these are high end malls with housing only super luxury brands from outside the country or apparel designers from India. Many of the larger malls in terms of square footage are (or coming up) in the NCR region because of availability of space. Take for example the Ambi Mall which houses a 50K Sq Ft food court, or the Mall of India which is 6mn sq ft in terms of covered area, or the Great India Place mall (in Noida) which is about a million sq ft. No mean sizes these, by any standard and definitely larger than most malls in Europe or Singapore.

The Non-American Scenario

Mall in Bangalore

Of course, there always have been conversations about how successful malls have been in India with real estate prices not making Retail very lucrative. And that most of the footfall conversion for a mall happens in the food courts, or the cineplex on the top floor. Food stores generally do well, whether they are in the food court or outside, whether they sell meals or cookies.

The malls in India, and the rest of the world came up in a completely different economic and social context compared to North America (where malls were first created). So the initial demographic is different, but a completely different set of circumstances still ends up drawing people to a mall. The combination of stores works well; you can shop, eat, play games and also catch a movie. Besides this, in many malls a large number of footfalls comes from people belonging to rural or semi-urban areas who come in as tourists. Many people spend time walking around and buying nothing (maybe a bag of pop corn) just being inside an air-conditioned environment. Hence, the influence of the complete extraneous factor of weather in a country like India or even in the Dubai.

Back to North America

Its not really hot in North America, but of course it can grow very very cold. Bottom-line, extreme weather! American malls capitalized on this and invited people who used to spend the morning walking and getting exercise; mainly senior adults. This was, and is a brilliant plan to invite people into the mall before the mall really opens. The walkers get a climate controlled and safe environment to walk in every morning without having to bump into crowds. Many other malls quickly realized and extended the potential by:

  • Getting coffee or juice stores to open up early in the mall.
  • Next was the food court, where many of the stores started opening a bit early and started serving breakfast. Each of the fast food places usually do serve breakfast even otherwise, but breakfast time usually ends before a mall opens up. So, that was a smart change!
  • Malls got smarter and opened up mall-walkers clubs where people could become members, join a group and walk the mall for a small fee (in many cases less than $20 year). This fee gave the members discounts at stores, and prior notices for sales.
  • Many marketing companies also found a very specific niche and target audience to try their new products, or push existing ones.

So, essentially works beautifully for everyone.

Back to India

Now, this is something which could very easily be replicated in our country as well. There are many people who do go out for a power (or leisurely) morning walk. There are seniors, and otherwise. And there are many people who would love to, but do not manage because of no proper ear marked areas. Parks and trails are vanishing before you can say ‘mall-walking is good’! This should work out well for mall owners, stores and the walking populace.

This, of course, sounds easier than it is! Traffic situations are problematic in most cities in India and many people will spend a bit of time getting to a mall in the morning. Not all malls are located very close to residential areas either. The third large problem will be security!

But still, worth a consideration I would think given the sizes of the malls opening up and the actual amount of available walking space and there already are four or five coffee chains in the country with Starbucks contemplating a foray in as well.

Read more about Mall Walking at this Reuters Web site.


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