MINT (A partner of the Wall Street Journal)
Delhi, 26 August 2010
A writer friend who is so not into shopping was recently spotted at an upmarket Delhi mall. He was, well, shopping. His wife was pleasantly shocked when he picked eight T-shirts, a couple of trousers and a pair of shoes. “I just couldn’t believe it when he quietly asked if he could visit the BOSSINI store,” she says.
The wife—who claims a bout of depression four years ago turned her into a big time visitor to the malls—is clearly surprised by her reticent husband’s new-found comfort in India’s modern retail format, the mall. “It’s not easy to drag him out of the house but once he is there I’ve noticed that he’s happy,” she says.
Another friend, a serious career woman and a firm believer in
multitasking, admits that she goes “malling” every week.
Although the online dictionary for slang, describes “malling”
as a “walk around the mall aimlessly (without the intention
of buying something)”, but in the case of this generally
purposeful lady, the visits are not completely devoid of targets.
The intention is to have fun, eat out and check out the latest
discount sales. “I am not spending big money, but yes, I
am buying more,” says the jet setter.
What’s common to the two people mentioned above is the fact
that they hated shopping. “It was so painful,” is their
A quick dipstick in a reasonably large group of friends and acquaintances
shows that reluctant shoppers who used to drag themselves to the
market even for that rare need-based shopping, don’t mind
walking the clean corridors of some of the plush malls in town.
More important, they are frequent visitors and they are spending—even
if it’s on a low-value trinket, beverage or burger.
So what’s pulling the indifferent shoppers to the malls?
Ideally, we need the expertise of someone like Paco Underhill,
the New York-based retail anthropologist, to unravel the changing
behaviour of the reluctant shopper in India, just the way he wrote
the treatise on America’s shopping disposition in bestsellers
such as Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping, Call of the Mall:
The Geography of Shopping and, more recently, What Women Want.
Experts say that Underhill, who founded the global consumer research
and consulting firm Envirosell, knows malls better than almost
anyone. In India, shoppers themselves offer insights into why
those indisposed towards buying earlier are now frequenting the
For the female consumer mentioned earlier, hygiene and safety
are critical pulls. You can shop puddle-free, immune to the vagaries
of the weather outside or the threat of being groped in a crowded
market. For her, it’s safe to shop, roam and eat out with
her teenaged daughter. Browsing does not invite the ire of the
salesman, and finally, clean toilets are accessible.
Devangshu Dutta, founder of retail consultancy Third Eyesight
agrees: Paying customers are being increasingly attracted to malls
because they offer a comfortable and safer environment. Some of
the better malls also offer a more cohesive brand and product
mix (for instance, DLF Emporio in Delhi is for designer and luxury
stuff and Select City Walk for premium brands) that draw a homogenous
profile of customers. This, in turn, increases the comfort and
confidence levels of the customers shopping in the mall.
The taciturn writer’s pull factors are slightly at variance.
He confesses enjoying the wide open spaces and the greenery outside
some of the malls. (Note, he lives in a flat on the second floor
and does not have a garden). For him, the sit-out area of eateries
holding a liquor licence is a matter of joy.
For the rest, malls seem to have replaced the ubiquitous picnic
spots. So families check out destination malls on a weekend for
entertainment (read cinema), food and shopping.
Malls are set to grow both in number and size. At least 30 new
malls are expected to launch in the near future with 250 already
in operation across the country, according to retail industry
estimates. Besides, significantly larger, 300,000-600,000 sq.
ft malls are becoming common, with some touching 1 million-plus
Interestingly, the perceived, feel-good increase in number
of footfalls is hard to substantiate, despite the parking full
signboards at the malls. At least two retail experts, Dutta of
Third Eyesight and Arvind Singhal, founder of Technopak Advisors,
say that the seemingly bigger crowds do not prove that either
the footfalls or the spending at malls have grown.
Dutta says footfall counts were impacted by the economic downturn
in the last two years, as well as the opening of competing malls,
and other issues that disrupt traffic patterns, such as a location
being dug up for construction.
But Arjun Sharma, promoter of Select City Walk in New Delhi,
insists that footfalls can now be measured with 95% accuracy thanks
to the security gates that malls have had to install. He claims
the shoppers are returning and his mall has seen between 10% and
15% footfall growth over last year.
Despite the sceptics in the business, there’s something about the malls. At 4 in the afternoon, on a weekday, when views of a Bangalore-based marketer were sought on whether malls are converting the shopping-averse, he texted back: “Wll cll in an hr. Am at a mall.”
Shuchi Bansal is marketing and media editor with Mint.
(This article originally appeared in Mint on August 26, 2010:
here to read on livemint.com)