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We are getting fewer but meaningful footfalls: Gayatri Ruia

The director of Palladium talks about running a luxury mall during a pandemic and how the shopping, and mall, experience will change in the post-Covid era

Pankti Mehta Kadakia
Published: Oct 8, 2020 11:14:17 AM IST

We are getting fewer but meaningful footfalls: Gayatri RuiaGayatri Ruia
Image: Aditi Tailang

Q. What has the pandemic taught you about retail?
Looking at the business now, with five to six months of the pandemic behind us, we realise we need to make some changes to do with the pandemic, but with a long-term view. Of course, we need to make the shopping experience more comfortable—and technology plays a big role in that—and customise it. We have to include some online strategy, but additionally, we could look at options such as providing personal shoppers who can help you so you don’t have to keep touching things; they can be brought to you. Home delivery, curbside pick-up, we’re exploring all sorts of hybrid models within our retail space.

We understand that more than anything else, we have to stay fluid. What we do this month may be entirely different from what we have to do two months from now. We have to be able to use perceptions, collect customer feedback very quickly and respond to it. So, whether it means giving HNIs who live in the area a limousine pick-up or keep the mall open to just an exclusive group to shop for an hour, we are exploring options. Some of it works, some of it doesn’t. We’re getting fewer footfalls, but more meaningful ones. We’re generating far more sales from them, because they have come with the intention to shop. We have to learn to use that to our advantage.

We’re only allowing one customer per 100 sq ft of space at Palladium, so that automatically personalises the experience. We want to create an experience that sends you away feeling positive and comfortable.

Q. It has been a couple of months since you reopened. What has the experience of running a mall in this age been like?
It’s challenging, but we are hopeful that as things normalise, we will also bounce back, a little ahead of the curve perhaps. For our kind of retail, we don’t see patterns changing very drastically. One has always been cognizant of the online-versus-physical retail, so this is not a new challenge. But yes, the pandemic has given a little additional gust to the whole concept. Even consumers who weren’t necessarily comfortable with the online medium have experienced it more than ever. But that has also given us a wider consumer base. We’ve got a more mature customer at the end of it, who is always a better customer.

Q. You had said in an earlier interview with us that the mall experience goes beyond shopping, to F&B, events and art. A lot of that is now on hold. How do you hope to recreate those experiences in the short term?
A couple of days ago, I went to Palladium and some women were quite distraught because there was no coffee for them, not even a take-away, which is what our regulations were at the time. Clearly, the compromise to the experience was immense. They had come to the mall for an experience they craved, two friends catching up, comfortably sitting six feet apart, but we couldn’t give them that café experience.

I told them I understood, but I asked them if they would still come back knowing they would not get that coffee for a while. They said they would definitely come back… they had shopping bags in their hands too. Week on week, we’re seeing our numbers increase, because people are becoming more confident of stepping out. We can see that in our sales data, in our footfalls. While the mall visit is compromised, people are still getting an experience that they were bereft of a few months ago.

We will continue layering our experiences. There’s no reason why our art programme shouldn’t carry on, for instance, to the extent that we can, keeping our rules in mind.

We are getting fewer but meaningful footfalls: Gayatri RuiaApart from sanitising common areas, Palladium has restricted visitors to one person for every 100 sq ft

Q. Does it make business sense to stay open at a time like this?
Of course. If I have to look at hard numbers, yes, we’re not thriving and breaking record sales as we were this time last year, but it definitely makes business sense to stay open. As long as the graph is consistent, it works. And luckily for us, we were able to open at sale time, which has given us a big boost.

Q. Are you looking to reorient your offerings, as certain stores might work better than others?
As our leases come to an end, we have a stringent evaluation system about whether to re-lease to the same retailer or bring someone else up from the wait list. That process is unchanged.

Q. How has the definition of luxury changed for consumers in India?
Luxury perhaps even 50 years ago was a very linear idea—it could have been a foreign car, a big mansion, jewels, a trip abroad… and it’s consistently changed. However, I think luxury still remains about experiencing quality products or quality moments. Maybe right now, getting home delivery of a perfect butterhead lettuce is a luxury. The points that underpin luxury—experience, quality or things with an artisanal or bespoke value to it—still remain the same.

We must understand that there is a romance, a heritage to luxury. If I got a beautiful Bottega handbag delivered in a brown package, it would lose its luxury appeal. And experienced users realise that. It’s about the experiences or products that make us feel good, a kind of indulgence that makes you feel worth it. That experience of walking into a store, seeing your money’s worth, is very much part of that experience, and people will want that. We’re all missing that aspect of luxury right now, and we very much want to get back to it as soon as we can.

(This story appears in the 23 October, 2020 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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