All about which experience?

I was in Gurgaon over the weekend, and though I've been there a couple of times before, each visit has been as if for the first time because I've hardly spend any time at the malls, or, for that matter, on the road. I have little or no recollection of my last visit, except that like this time, the movie I watched sucked. Yes, I slept through portions of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, a first for me. At Deepan and Priya's place in the evening today, I was surprised to find that shops in Gurgaon are shutting down. Already?

A project I finished a month ago was a business proposal that hinged largely on providing a great experience to the shopper - to make her (or in this care, him) feel special. In other words, serious ass-licking. Someone managing the Barista brand concurred with this observation over dinner on Friday, while in the same breath, asking me if I thought Barista products were overpriced? Reasonable, I said, but not quite value for money.

If you read magazines like Franchise and visit websites on retailing in India, they're all ga-ga about the experiential aspect of malls, and about how malls have taken India to an entirely new state of retail evolution. Essentially, I don't see much of a difference between a mall and a high-street or a marketplace like GK-1. Malls, of course, are air-conditioned, and it remains a great way to beat the heat. But to me, they're not really experiential.

A shop in a market is an entirely different experience: If you go into a Reebok shop in the sveltering heat, and are treated nicely, shopping there is an experience for you; the kind that the bluestar advertisement emphasises oh-so perfectly. In Pune, Foodworld operates on a similar concept. However, in case of a mall, the mall experience tends to make the store experience that less special. You'll find more people loitering around and sitting in cafe's than in stores. For a single brand to sell again and again, it has to make the shopping experience in the shop better than the shopping experience in the mall, and that's a tough ask, as well as an expensive one. One would probably require less effort in a single standalone shop. So it's not surprising that shops in malls are finding it hard to break even. At the same time, given an alternative, people would prefer to be in a mall than a high-street.

What makes in difficult in Gurgaon is that there are several malls close to each other, and few differentiating factors, including restaurants and discotheques, between them. I suppose the one with the best restaurants will see best sales.

Priya made a very interesting point - that high streets and malls initially developed as en route to an activity center. Today, cinema halls in malls serve the same purpose. But the government is killing it. Rumour has it that DT Cinema is planning to shut because of an unreasonably high entertainment tax. That'll kill that mall, all right.

What do you think should be done?

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