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‘It’s the best time to be in retail’

By N Jayalakshmi | October 19, 2022

In this interaction with Retail4Growth, Sunil Munshi, VP - Retail, Orion Malls by Brigade Group; shares his observations on the shifting dynamics in the way customers interact with brands and how this influences the way brands approach the physical retail space, about Brigade Group’s LiteStore concept, which helps new brands experiment with brick and mortar retail, and more…

Malls as a platform offer a panoramic view of retail trends, particularly with regard to brands and their customer response. Now with post-Covid trends settling in, it’s business as usual and more.  As Sunil Munshi, VP - Retail, Orion Malls by Brigade Group, says, retail sales are 30% higher than those in the pre-Covid period and are expected to go even higher during this festive season. “People want to come out now and malls are the best place for them to come to because they are safer, cleaner and are more of a community space,” he adds.

Sunil Munshi, VP - Retail, Orion Malls Further sharing his observations on market trends, he explains, “ Athleisure as a  category began doing very well during Covid due to the obvious shift in consumer lifestyle, and post Covid, while all the categories have been doing well, F&B and Entertainment are seeing big growth.” Again, the reasons are pretty obvious, reflecting  as they do the collective consumer sentiment.

Given this,  brands are also upping their store experience quotient. As Sunil Munshi points out, “In the last 3 months, we have seen that most of the brands have gone in for store renovation because they realize that the store matters more now, and that they cannot have the same store they had earlier. Plus, they are also looking at bigger stores. Then of course there is the omnichannel approach, which no brand can afford to ignore. But what is interesting is the creative ways in which brands have been approaching it. For example, some retail brands enable shopping on WhatsApp through a personalised connect with the store manager, or facilitate customers to buy online and get it delivered at the store, or enable online shopping with home delivery, etc. So retail brands have responded  very well to the situation and we as a mall have also adapted to it through the use of technology tools like apps and chat bots to improve customer convenience and experience.”

The other noticeable trend is of course of newer categories like ecommerce brands opting for brick and mortar retail and in the process, paving the way for newer formats. As Sunil says, “Many e-commerce brands are shifting to offline retail, but want to test the waters first. So at Brigade Group we have started the LiteStore concept to help new brands, especially those from the online space, to explore and test the offline space. ” This means that a particular store in the mall is given to LiteStore, which leases out the space to a brand for a short period, of say 1-2 months, like in the case of a pop-up store. LiteStore manages the store interiors for the brand and also its end to end turnaround for a certain period. It essentially helps a brand experiment and understand the customer response before planning the offline retail expansion.

The nature of collaboration between a mall and the resident retail brands has also seen a shift in the last couple of years. Speaking about this, Sunil says, “It was always a partnership based relationship, but now it has become even more collaborative in nature, and I’d say the bond has become stronger.”

This strong partnership between the mall and the retail brands is seen in the use of technology, in the store design guidelines and in the way customer experience is enhanced through both of these. As Sunil shares, speaking about the way brands are approaching their retail space and about how it is balanced with the mall’s design guidelines,“All malls have their guidelines in place when it comes to the store design and layout, but there are some brands who are very creative in their approach. It’s  important for brands to distinguish themselves and offer a good customer experience using digital interfaces like video walls. So we have to be open to changes as long as they don’t interfere with the customer experience or hinder other brands.  But yes, there are some  basic guidelines in terms of the lux levels, types of tiles to be used, the use of facade, ceiling,  etc. So I’d say it is a collaborative effort to deliver the best facade design for the retailer, while being in line with the overall guidelines.”

Much of the experience that brands offer in a  mall environment is also driven by the fact that malls are essentially community spaces, more so today. So brands are by default part of any customer engaging activity that the mall initiates. As Sunil points out, “Our focus is on activities that are relevant for the community. Essentially the continuous effort is on understanding what the customer wants and involve brands who resonate with that.”

Finally speaking about Orion’s plans in the coming days, Sunil informs that the mall is essentially focused on strengthening its presence in the South, beyond Bangalore where it is based, especially other Metros and tier 2 cities, and evaluating these markets based on the mall’s brand portfolio and thought process. Meanwhile, the focus continues to be on understanding and enhancing the different facets of customer experience. 

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