In a time when the global markets are reverberating with the sound of gloom and doom, where lofty iconic stores and malls have downed their shutters, all eyes are on India’s leading luxury malls, DLF Emporio, and the more recent, The Chanakya. The Luxury Chronicle’s Neelima Agrawal reached out to Prashant Gaurav Gupta, the man who now bears the mantle of Vice President and Head of DLF Luxury Malls. His positive outlook, matched with his many dynamic initiatives and enthusiasm, was uplifting. Time will tell if he is a visionary or a dreamer. But he had us convinced to emerge from our shell and indulge in the sanitised new haven he offers. Read on about what he has to say.
Congratulations on your new job. You have stepped up to the plate as VP and Head of DLF Luxury Malls, at a time when brick and mortar retail stores and malls are facing the worst time. What motivated you?
Yes these are trying times, not only for us but for every sector, across the globe – be it hospitality, F&B, retail, travel, automobiles. We are all having to rethink and reinvent our strategies to emerge stronger. As for stepping into a new role, I think that any situation, whether difficult or easy, there is always an opportunity to make the most of it. That is the way I am looking at my new role, here at DLF. Even if the times are tough, it will only help us shine better and work things out to the best interest of our team, retail partners and of course, our guests. As far as the new role is concerned, DLF has shown their faith in me to to shoulder this responsibility and I am glad to be chosen for the same.
What are the novel challenges that you see ahead?
The pandemic has definitely changed forever, the experience of shopping and customer engagement, as we knew it. However, once the immediate threat lifts, we do believe our patrons will come back stronger against all worry and anxiety of the past few months. Moving forward, we do anticipate a need for all brands to focus on meaningful values in their offerings that branch into personalized services, to reinforce luxury as a holistic investment.
What measuers have you taken to make the shopping experience safe and enjoyable at your malls? And assure the shopper to return.
We are strictly adhering to the guidelines shared by the WHO and MHA. Many new processes and measures have been put in place. There is a sanitization tunnel for cars, parking is contactless, all touchpoints across the mall and within the stores, have automated hand sanitizera at arms length. The entry to the mall has high-definition thermal cameras for seamless entry. All guests and employees are required to have Aarogya Setu App installed on their smartphones, and must wear face masks. We also provide face masks to shoppers who come without one. To maintain social distancing we have mandated limited number of people inside, depending upon the size of each store.
Recently, we devised a video campaign for all our guests and shoppers, showcasing our safety measures from the very moment they step into our premises. The response has been very positive, the footfall numbers have gone up, and reflect on the sales in stores, along with the F&B businesses.
What is the biggest change that you see in the shopping pattern and profile of the shoppers at the brick & mortal retail points such as DLF Malls?
With respect to the luxury retail industry, the shift we are observing right now is majorly in the consumption patterns of consumer behaviour. Earlier, an estimated 50 million Indians travelled outside the country annually, particularly during the hot months of May, June and July. And shopped in places like Dubai, Singapore, London or Paris, apart from India.
Now, we are seeing an increased consumption coming from within the country. DLF Emporio & The Chanakya are the obvious choices for people to satisfy their luxury needs in India. Specially amongst the marquee brands, we are definitely seeing the demand for consumption rising. I don’t think I will categorise this as revenge buying, or similar terms that are commonly being used around the world, but it is sufficient to say that the luxury consumer is behaving differently amongst different categories and most of the luxury brands are experiencing an advancement in sales and customer loyalty, while others are employing omni-channel strategies to engage with their customers. Hence, it is a mixed bag.
In most of our stores. we have observed the trend of focussed buying. Omni- channel strategies are playing a complementary role in bridging the communication between the consumers and retailers, making the products visible from the comfort of their homes and thus, enabling customers to visit the store to pick up items they have already shortlisted. There has been a drastic shift from consumers coming in to window shop and browse, to now visiting the stores with a specific target of purchasing the article that they want.
Luxury brands are increasingly opting for digital retail platforms or omni channel retail. In what way will this impact luxury malls such as Emporio?
Digital has now become the source of inspiration for reinventing the role of the store and customer experience. However, exclusivity has always been fundamental to luxury as it maintains consumer desire through scarcity and rarity. It is imperative for us to balance a “phygital experience” by taking the in-store experience online, and the online experience in-store. At DLF Emporio, we are focussed on creating efficient Omni-channel strategies and generate meaningful content that inspires, engages and entices our consumers across all categories of purchase.
We see huge upsides for both our properties. Even though, Chanakya is new with latest infrastructure, but from a service point of view, both the malls measure up to the best out there in International luxury. In the luxury segment, it is all about how well can you serve your customer and the trust you can build.
We are thus, actively reaching out with our offering of a Personal Shopper on-call, for all your buying needs. This has already received a phenomenal response from our guests. The Personal Shopper receives multiple calls daily, and guides via video call discussions, to understand specific requirements, exact sizing options, helping to pick their favorite styles, etc. Specially, with the festive season in full swing, people are really utilising this service to make their gift-shopping process seamless and comfortable via personal appointments to just pick up the final merchandise from the mall.
We have, recently introduced curbside pickup service, which enables shoppers to shop online, the brands housed at the property and receive their purchases in their cars, via a designated concierge, without having to physically step out. We have witnessed a rise in our conversion rates with accessories doing fairly well, followed by apparel. There is huge demand for loungewear and athleisure, as compared to formals, due to absence of social functions in current times.
Going forward, we want to keep working on the brand strength that we have developed at both Emporio & Chanakya and continue to expand, introducing as many luxury brands as we can within our malls and offering the best of national and international luxury to our consumers.
Globally, there are many brick and mortar retail stores specifically, that have closed or gone digital. Do you think it is just a temporary trend or will it reverse?
There are multiple reasons that put the luxury retail functioning of India in a different perspective. Also, globally, the percentage of luxury business, which operates online has not been very substantial. While I agree Covid has definitely led to an increase in digital buying during the lockdown, however, luxury is about making use of the five senses – where you can touch, feel, smell the product in order to differentiate it from a mass market article. Each product has a story to tell, and a lot of man hours go into bringing this story alive with the end result. Thus, one cannot really eliminate the sense of touch and feel from luxury in the long run. Additionally, as far as India is concerned it will not be fair to compare the luxury brands present in the western markets to those here, given that the number of buyers are niche and also the nature of the audience is completely different across each market and country, worldwide.
Both Emporio and Chanakya have several F&B options. With your strong background in the hospitality sector, should we expect the dining experience here to be further amped up?
In case of the DLF luxury malls, we operate most of our F&B outlets in-house, whether it is SET’Z, MKT , Café E, Café C and Cha Shi, between both the malls. From the beginning, we have paid head to the voices of our customers, interacted with people coming to the mall and used their feedback to ensure superlative product and service at all fronts.
We have implemented several new sanitization and social-distancing guidelines within the staff as well as our processes. Every member in the F&B operations is required to wear not only a face mask but also face shields to ensure utmost safety. Plates are provided in a sanitized paper bag and each and every cutlery, crockery and napkin that we lay out for our guests are thoroughly sanitised. Our menu’s are completely contactless and people can order their food via scanning a QR Code which enables the menu to pop up on their phone and there is digitalised cashless payment. We are increasing our covers every day and are happy to see the positive response of our customers, that has given them the confidence to come back and enjoy a safe and enjoyable dining experience with us.
Have DLF Luxury Malls, Emporio and Chanakya, faced many store closures with the pandemic?
Our partnership with each of our retail brands is a long-term relation, during good times as well as the tough ones. I can confidently say that because of the transparency and understanding we have as a company, we have been able to work out a win-win solution with our retailers.
What kind of changes do you foresee globally, in the luxury retail space that will prevail after these unusual time?
Like I mentioned previously, I am a firm believer that brick and mortar is here to stay for the luxury market, because experience is imperitive for a luxury consumer, in order to actually connect with it. While it is easier to shop online for regular apparel or everyday products, but when purchasing high value items, people like to experience the entire journey, they like to understand the history and story behind the product, whether it is an exclusive watch or made-to-measure suit, or a bag made out of certain quality of leather. All the items have a story, which is a major part of the entire Luxury retail experience.
We are hopeful that October onwards, with the start of the festive and marriage season in India, people are likely to indulge in luxury shopping. For weddings, the earlier gatherings of 500-1000 guests will diminish, due to the new mandate. But vis a vis luxury shopping, the buying of couture pieces, watch or jewellery by the bride, groom, immediate family, close relatives etc will not be affected. This same set of members will still be making these essential purchases, given the importance of the occasion in their family. I foresee a positive side to this scenario in the cooler season, specially for Delhi, where winter is the season for shopping.
While there maybe a dip in sales at brick and mortar luxury retail for now, as compared to digital, it will not drastically impact the landscape in the long run. Brick and mortar is very much here to stay. We aim to bring more exclusive brands and experiences for people to experience the best of both Indian as well as International luxury, all under one roof.