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Makeover on the Shop Floor

Raghavendra Kamath, Business Standard

Mumbai, April 18, 2011

While middle-aged women are checking out products at the newly-opened gourmet section on the first floor, twenty somethings are waiting to try the designer pret by Lajjo C, whose collection is exclusively displayed at the revamped store of Tata-run Westside in the Kala Ghoda area in south Mumbai.

"It’s chic and happening", says Parakh Tale, checking out the cereal bar, that allows customers to make their own breakfast cereal mix. For Tale, a regular at the Westside’s store, the store is different in many ways than in the past.

The chain’s flagship store recently got a make-over with better layout and lightings apart from having a gourmet and chocolate section, which marked its entry in premium food retail. The chain is planning to extend the experiment to several other stores.

Winds of change are clearly blowing across Westside, which used to have 95 per cent of its merchandise coming from its own brands. Now its larger stores stock international brands such as womenswear brand GIVe, kidswear brand Chicco, womens footwear brand Aerology apart from designer prêt.

It’s not only Westside where make-overs are taking place, almost all established department store chains are reinventing themselves in a bid to win customers who are spoilt for choice.

Take Raheja-owned Shoppers Stop. The 20-year old department store chain, considered a slow mover among Indian retailers in the past – it took 20 years to open its 30 stores – is bringing in many innovations in its stores, apart from adding 24 stores in the next four years.

Recently, it hired about 150 fashion consultants to help customers make a right purchase and help them up their fashion quotient.

The chain has introduced day and night lighting options in its stores where shoppers can check how a garment looks in day light and night. Women at its stores can also tryout the complete make-up with professional help.

But Shoppers Stop is not new to innovations. After rebranding its logo in 2008, the chain went in for a change in its positioning from premium to ‘bridge to luxury’ in 2009 and brought in a lot of international brands.

And such changes have yielded results. While Shoppers Stop stores are seeing a like-to-like (LTL) growth of 16 to 17 per cent, womenswear category is seeing a growth of 40 per cent, says Govind Shrikhande, managing director of Shoppers Stop. LTL growth refers to sales coming from the store that are in the business for more than one year.

Kishore Biyani’s 15-year department store chain Pantaloons is also not lagging behind. Late last year, Pantaloons launched its 50th store in Delhi with a ‘new avatar’ where interior walls were made up with dark wood and tiles. Since then it has opened five such ‘new age’ stores, where display of merchandise has been spaced out, uniformly giving its customers more room to walk.

The LTL growth in the Lifestyle category of Kishore Biyani’s Pantaloon Retail is at 22 per cent, one of the highest since FY 2007.

Naimish Dave, director at OC&C Strategy Consultants, a global consulting firm, says: "If you look at department stores, most of them offer same brands, same merchandise to buyers. Unless they offer something different to customers, they cannot win more customers."

Westside has roped in Fitch to redesign its existing stores and design new stores, Pantaloons has hired Blocher & Blocher, Shoppers Stop has hired the services of JHP and Portland to design its stores.

The new breed of value department chains such as Reliance Trends and Landmark Group’s Max are also competing aggressively with the established ones. For instance, Reliance Trends has come out with eye-popping freebies and merchandise to woo buyers. When a person shops for over Rs 2,000 at Reliance Trends, the customer is entitled to a gift coupon worth Rs 1,000. If the amount is Rs 3,000, the voucher amount goes up to Rs 2,000.

CEO Arun Sirdeshmukh says the CPH (complaints per hundred) Index in its own brands is lower than some of the national brands.

Landmark group’s Max has launched high throughput range with help from the Max Dubai design studio. The chain is opening 30 more stores where store sizes are 14,000 sq ft as against 12,000 sq ft earlier.

Consultants like Devangshu Dutta, chief executive of Third Eyesight, say department stores have a bright future. "In the US, department stores are a declining trend. Since India is a nascent retail market, we have enough opportunities," he says.

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