India's new retail

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Contact Mike Wilson-MacCormack

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Contact Komal Data, Divisional Director, Mumbai

With India set to become the third-largest online retail market by 2030, now is the time for developers to assess their physical retail environments. Across the country, in-store retail will need to provide compelling ‘reasons to visit’ to generate footfall and engagement.

So, how can designers help to create destinations where people want to be? And what’s does the future hold for retail in India? To find out, we brought together industry experts for a virtual roundtable event, focusing on mixed-use and experiential design as drivers of retail transformation.

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Leveraging mixed-use in the post-Covid landscape

To introduce the session, Benoy’s Mike Wilson-MacCormack began by explaining how 
Covid-19 has accelerated trends in retail that were already underway. In particular, he said, real physical experiences” in retail environments are more important now than ever. It’s not about efficiency, it’s not about FSI…it’s about providing engaging spaces and adaptable formats where people can come and experience something”. 

Mixed-use is key to delivering these dynamic new experiences, said Wilson-MacCormack. By combining retail with other uses, such as residential and hospitality, developers can provide a rich mix of options and opportunities and create synergies between communities”. 

Nitin Bansal, Assistant Vice President at Brookfield Properties, echoed these sentiments, describing how, as India emerged from lockdown, it was mixed-use workplace environments that attracted a higher proportion of people back to the office”. In particular, those developments offering a mixed-use element of retail, F&B and experience”, with a genuine sense of community and…proximity [between] all these things”, proved most popular as restrictions were lifted. Ecoworld in Bangalore, said Bansal, was a prime example of this blended and interconnected model. 

Participants agreed that following the isolating experience of lockdown, mixed-use environments have provided a vital opportunity for people to come together. As Benoy’s Clarissa Wenborn observed, with the rise of remote working during the pandemic, consumers increasingly expect to have [a mix of] services where they live”. This trend might now challenge preconceived ideas about catchments and development opportunities”, with a discernible push for more locally focused retail as part of mixed-use urban design. 

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Access all areas

According to Suvneet Ahuja, Head of Real Estate at Reliance Brands Limited, in order for mixed-use retail developments to succeed, there has to be a common porous access system between one asset and another”. In many mixed-use developments in India, said Ahuja, you have to pass through separate security and access systems” when moving from hotel to retail to workspace, which creates barriers to entry”. Whereas single, integrated access points, said Ahuja, allow the customer to feel part of a common” experience. 

Picking up on the theme of access, Komal Datta, Divisional Director at Benoy, spoke of the need to blur the boundaries between different functions” to enable more seamless customer journeys. Meanwhile, Abhijit Nikale, Head of Design at Nexus Malls, Indian retail arm of The Blackstone Group, declared it’s time to get everyone into a mall”. Referencing specific barriers to entry for people with disabilities or people with pets, Nikale said developers have to find a way to house” all potential users of retail space. This approach involves sensitive design adjustments as well as more inclusive attitudes towards people with different needs and proclivities. 

On the subject of pets, Suvneet Ahuja added that pet-friendly retail environments can attract a whole new audience into a project”. With pets increasingly considered part of the family unit, those developers that can enable integrated pet access will demonstrate significant value add and service differentiation. 

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The spaces inbetween

Next, Rajneesh Mahajan, CEO at Inorbit malls, K Raheja Corp, explained how in India bigger cities have increased FAR (floor area ratio), which mandates mixed-use development to justify the land price”. At the same time, changes in law are opening up larger land parcels, providing more opportunities for mixed-use”. But whereas Indian mixed-use developments previously involved standalone buildings, today, said Mahajan, designers need to think about connecting those assets through experiences, activities and design elements. By encouraging and enabling people to move between buildings, you’re looking at occupants of a campus” rather than occupants of a building…and that in itself drives [value]”.

Participants agreed that the spaces in between buildings – public realm, landscape, streets and squares – can provide vital connectivity within mixed-use urban design. These areas can also become outdoor community spaces, which are increasingly important to modern city dwellers. 

People want to be outdoors,” said Abhishek Trehan, Executive Director at Trehan Iris, pointing to the growing trend for open spaces within retail design – atria, naturally ventilated courtyards, rooftop restaurants, greenspace – to meet the needs of environmentally aware and Covid-conscious consumers. Indeed, these spaces are helping to meet the need for more sustainable retail experiences, with people increasingly seeking opportunities for health and fitness, as well as improved air quality and proximity to nature. 

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Family-focussed and community oriented

In India, as elsewhere, physical stores need to adapt to the new consciousness of omnichannel retail. As Pranay Sinha, MD of Keystone Advisory, observed, The pandemic has surely changed shopping habits, shopping behaviour, and mindsets of retailers and developers. Urban society at large, has moved closer to their families, and to nature. While planning and design of retail spaces of the future should mindfully integrate with an omnichannel reality (Hema supermarkets, AmazonGO), they must explore incorporating nature and landscape design, as a powerful anchor.’

As Indian consumers increasingly resort to online for everyday staples – ketchup delivered in nine minutes,” said Pankaj Renjhen, COO & Jt MD Retail, Anarock Consultants – physical retail now needs to offer something different. And in India, family and community should be the primary focus areas.

We need to think of Hamleys not as a toy store”, said Renjhen, but as an evolving family space”. More than ever, retail environments need to cater to the local community, which in India means providing a family-focused experience that engages and inspires. Brands are demanding spaces to be created that are more convenience and community oriented,” concluded Renjhen, as participants agreed that lasting social value (as well as economic and environmental value) is a key objective for retail in India and beyond.

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