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The Future of Retail – Lessons from Select CITYWALK

“Shopping malls are not only meant for shopping – they also act as community centres for the public”

Select CITYWALK has been the best performing mall in the country for the last 14 years in terms of sales density – a key factor for any retailer. Frankly, everything boils down to sales figures. At times, the mall has even performed better than the New Delhi airport in terms of per square feet sales, which is an important parameter in every category – whether it’s an anchor or a small vanilla brand. In fact, airports operate around the clock, whereas malls operate for 12 to 13 hours a day, but in terms of sales numbers Select CITYWALK has given airport sales tough competition. It is vital to constantly keep upgrading things in a shopping mall, whether it is the brand mix, tenant mix, the kinds of events held, or the décor. It’s a combination of all these that comes together while putting together the best shopping mall. It is always a work in progress! If you consider Select CITYWALK, we are always changing – brands, decor quality, technology upgrades, every aspect – we invest a great deal in the little things that go into the functioning of a mall.

The role of marketing

Marketing is a core function of any shopping mall – it plays a most critical role. Marketing is not only that of the mall itself, it is also the marketing of the brands in the shopping mall, which presents tremendous scope. For instance, if there are 200 brands in the mall, you have the opportunity to market every brand every day – there should always be a running story, a buzz.

Shopping malls are not only meant for shopping – they also act as community centres for the public. Festivals, for instance, play a very big role. Whether it’s Eid, Diwali, or Christmas, when people come out – especially in places like Delhi where there are limited public places and the weather is extreme – they end up going to a mall. Shopping becomes something that happens by default. Marketing is also constantly upgraded; we keep changing it up with a lot of targeted marketing aimed at specific groups of customers. The décor is another element that is huge for us, people come specially to see the festive décor, they bring their children along and wind up eating and shopping, again by default.

New trends in retail

Technology is set to play a huge role in retail. Almost 90 to 95 per cent of retailers in any shopping mall use technology, whether its technology partners in terms of Swiggy or Zomato for F&B, or Delhivery or others. Even big international brands like Zara and H&M use online platforms of omni-channels, which play a very important role in bringing the online customers into the offline space and vice-versa. However, offline shopping can never go out of fashion. When people purchase things, they have to come to the mall for the touch and feel factor, that will continue to be a critical point.

There is also a huge consumer journey in the mall, which is now 14 years old! It starts when you are a teenager buying certain brands, then as a young adult when you start earning you move on to other brands, and as you move further ahead in life your selections change according to your growing aspirations. This is a huge journey, and one must target all sets of customers.

“Technology is set to play a huge role in retail. Almost 90 to 95 per cent of retailers in any shopping mall use technology”

Indian brands v/s foreign brands

We have an extremely good set of Indian brands that have created their own space, and there are many market leaders among them, for example the traditional Fabindia brand. New brands such as Lenskart have huge investments in India and are going global as well. The issue is one of relevance to consumers and the ability to fulfil their needs. Many of the new brands coming up – available on sites like Myntra – are doing business worth 500+ crores, 200+ crores. US Polo is one of the Indian brands which is doing phenomenal numbers. We should not consider international brands as a threat. Those brands have in fact set a benchmark for upcoming Indian brands – how to set their SOPs, how to work in a different function. We must remember that the industry in India is very nascent. Slowly, in the next five or ten years, things will be in good shape. Indian brands will flourish, and they will be present all across the globe.

Role of e-retailers

Although e-retail has certainly taken some part of the retail pie, I wouldn’t advise considering it a danger to malls. In fact, in a way e-retail is helping brands. For example, somebody living in a tier-3 or tier-4 city may want to buy something from an international brand, but those brands won’t be able to open stores in their vicinity, because of Capex or ROI. Those hundred-odd customers can be catered to through online options which are playing an important role in opening the market. E-retail and other technological interventions that have come up in the Covid lockdown period will go hand-in-hand with offline sales, eventually they will complement one another and raise up the entire industry.

Covid-effect on retail

Indeed, there are some categories such as cinemas, fitness providers, and family entertainment centres (FECs) that have been severely impacted by Covid. There will have to be short-term planning and improvisations in terms of sizing of stores, how to use technology to operate and deliver products and services. Also, if supply is affected by issues in other countries, retailers will have to re-think supply chains. All these things have to be factored in while considering future plans. Like any other industry, there will be repercussions and changes. It remains to be seen how long these will be needed, as eventually cinemas will make a comeback. PVR, for instance, has been raising funds even over the last lockdown. Slowly things will move again in a different direction, and perhaps things will go a full circle over the next two years or so. It may even enhance the relevance of these experiences once customers return after having been away for so long. To be sure, there will be corrections in terms of staffing, store sizes, and technology.

Career in retail  

As a panel member of a couple of colleges, I have seen that there are now specialized courses on retail for shopping malls, as the industry presents a huge opportunity. Although we have not been conferred the status of an industry, it is in fact a massive industry. It impacts every aspect of life – from the shirt and denim you wear, to the food you venture out for. The industry is not one store or one mall. A lot of funds are coming into India for retail and the future holds great promise. Indian brands are flourishing – they are expanding globally. In terms of e-commerce, companies like Flipkart, Myntra and others are making a mark. There are huge career opportunities. The industry in India is roughly 20 to 25 years old. It has gone through different phases very quickly compared to developed economies where the mall industry began at least 40 to 45 years ago. With the industry here still in such a nascent phase, there is tremendous scope for career opportunities in every aspect of the mall business. 

Career highlights

I joined the industry in the early days, and it has been a long and challenging journey accompanied by great learning. When the mall started functioning, finding suitable talent was a big challenge. Everyone involved worked incredibly hard and there have been some extremely rewarding moments, for instance launching the very first country stores of brands such as Zara and H&M. These were great moments for me, and everyone involved.

Working in a shopping mall is an everyday challenge! You cannot expect a footfall of 30,000 people every day. Covid and lockdowns brought their own sets of challenges – how to close a mall, how to deal with the return of customers when lockdown restrictions eased, and so forth. What matters in the end is that we overcame every challenge we faced, and we intend to improve further in the future.


  • Deepak Zutshi

    Deepak Zutshi is centre head for Select CITYWALK mall. Prior to this, he was Vice President for Leasing and Retail. With over two decades of experience in the retail industry behind him, Deepak is passionate about creating the perfect shopping experience for customers and retailers and keeping Select CITYWALK ahead of the competition.

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