Why do malls lose their shine and get on a negative spiral towards becoming a dying place?

Last Sunday, after a long time I went to the Chennai City Centre (CCC) Mall in Radhakrishnan Salai – I was surprised to find it “NOT” being crowded. The only shop, that seems to be having shoppers there was Lifestyle Fashion.

Chennai City Centre Mall, Chennai – August 2018

A few weeks back I wanted to go to Shoppers Stop in Ramee Mall (next to Hyatt in Anna Salai, near DMK Anna Arivalayam), I was shocked to see there was no mall there. The ground floor had only a “Decathlon” sports shop, with all the other areas/floors being taped shut. Last year, I noticed the pioneer of malls in Chennai – The Spencers Plaza was deserted even during Christmas.

Spencer Plaza Phase 3 in Chennai – Many brands and outlets have exited the mall

It’s not only me with this question. Bishwanath Ghosh, the journalist and the writer of the book on Chennai (Tamarind City) also had the same question way back in 2012. It is not that as if malls are dying only in Chennai, Time had written about “The Death and Life of the American Shopping Mall”, numerous videos are on YouTube about deserted malls in the USA and there are malls in Singapore that are ageing.

Yes, there is the impact of e-commerce (Amazon and Flipkart) that’s being felt by offline retail, as a result, malls are losing their footfalls. As every expert in retail will tell you, a mall is not only a shopping destination, it is more of a community place with modern comforts where you go for the entertainment and the food.

Coming back to my original question, what makes a particular mall die, while others to be doing good?

Specific to Chennai, while Spencers, CCC and Ramee are not doing well, you will find Forum Vijaya Mall and Phoenix Market City to be always crowded.  I am sure the realtors of malls are not unaware of the situation and are not dumb to be not doing anything. It can’t be the location, it is not as if Spencers and City Centre suddenly found themselves in a different geographic location – still, Mount Road and Royappetah are happening places in Chennai.

Raising this question on my Facebook wall, I got some wonderful responses from the experts, I am summarising (paraphrasing in some cases) them below:

  1. Malls, that focused on having a good multiplex and a fine variety of restaurants attract the public, and shopping follows, keeping everyone’s business going.
  2. In a conservative(?) city like Chennai, malls that have a budget supermarket as their anchor client do well. They attract regular shoppers – grocery purchases happen every month. In Chennai malls that are doing well have one – Express Mall and Phoenix Market City have Big Bazaar, and, Forum Vijaya Mall has Spar.
  3. Mr V Rajesh, the author of “The India reTALEs“, says a right assortment of shops are needed to ensure catchment, product placement, Planogram (which stores are placed where), which are hardly ever focused upon in India. For him, malls are a retail format and not a real estate business. He recommends a “Basic Retail Model” explained in his book as a good starting point for any successful retail business.
  4. Mr Arvind Aathreya says that going forward malls have more to do with “experiential shopping”. For example, the Phoenix market city in Bengaluru or even in Chennai has music concerts happening or a beer and jazz festival. There is also the trend of IKEA like multinationals opening their own megastores, so unless you want to hang out, there’s no compelling reason to visit a shopping mall that only has retail. Forbes writes about how malls in China are surviving and thriving in the e-commerce age.
  5. Continuing on #4, Malls have to provide an “experience” like what Mr Kevin Kelly talks about in his wonderful book “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

Malls need to constantly reinvent themselves to be in business or risk of a slow and painful death. The Tamil poem from the 13th Century Nannul says “பழையன கழிதலும் புதியன புகுதலும் இயற்கையின் நியதி – நன்னூல்” meaning “The old going away, and the new taking its place is nature” applies in the case of Malls too.

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