The Shopping Arena

High-end department stores could work well in a country like India where every second consumer likes to walk the talk. But what is the correct time, what are the obstacles and how can the concept be customised for such a diverse region like India?

By: Karishma Parkash

Posted on: August 10, 2011 and re-posted on January 10, 2012

High-end department stores could work well in a country like India where every second consumer likes to walk the talk. But what is the correct time, what are the obstacles and how can the concept be customised for such a diverse region like India?

With a tube station famed by the store’s majestic aura and the familiar olive green colour catching your eye, it is impossible to complete your visit to London without visiting the gorgeous structure of Harrods. Similarly, a walk on Oxford Street will feel incomplete without a satisfying, if not completely fruitful, walk around Selfridges. Dripping with luxury, style and power, luxury department stores like Harrods, Barney’s, House of Fraser, Sak’s Fifth Avenue and Selfridges are any shopper’s dream come true. Housing almost every luxury brand, these stores have been around longer than we even learnt to say the word ‘shop’. While browsing around these gorgeous high-end department stores, voicing every well-travelled Indian’s innermost aspiration, I wondered aloud - would such a concept work in India?

Direct to India
In a report by Christina ML Kelton and Robert P Rebelein it was mentioned that high-end retail department stores are lucrative for regional economic development. They bring in high-income shoppers from outside the region, and prevent leakages by encouraging similarly mobile shoppers who live in the area to spend within the region.

We asked Mr Abhay Gupta, Executive Director, Blues Clothing Company Ltd, if the concept of a high-end department store in India would be a dream come true. “Indians at large are more comfortable shopping in a multi-brand environment than a single brand store environment. Both Harrods and Selfridges are perfect examples of such a concept on a very large scale,” he said.

With food for thought, Mr Rahul Kapoor, Co-Founder, Excedo Luxuria, opines that a novelty department store would most definitely work in India subject to a few conditions. Well pointed out by him, the luxury market has had an influx of luxury brands of which most have been available to all, from nouveau riche to royalty. Though the concept generically would be a good starting platform, it needs more fine-tuning as Selfridges has become quite an average shopping destination for the local residents. For example, many do their weekly grocery shopping at the food hall, while Harrods has a good reputation but a few items are available at a better price elsewhere, which has caused a stir with certain customers.

“Do not misunderstand me. There are many items in Harrods which are beautiful and justify a visit, but at the same time, the retail experience isn’t really fun anymore, knowing that certain items can be purchased elsewhere and also where sometimes the staff immediately begins to judge you and can be arrogant if they perceive you as a ‘browser’. The physical layout and interior of Harrods makes it enjoyable for the first few visits, but afterwards it alienates the customer from the personalized shopping experience,” he said.

Indian customers are ever looking beyond the current offerings from outlets and prefer to be able to shop locally for their desired items. Most retail outlets, however, still do not fully know the products they sell. The customers, however, enjoy visiting an outlet where they are not only introduced to a relationship with a brand but also its offerings and staff.

“Though there are many customers who would not, in my opinion, understand the beauty of creations housed at an outlet as prestigious as this, they are in most cases willing to learn and understand. Finally the prices such a store offers would have to be reasonably close to EU/USA/AFR, as the ideal customer can afford to spend INR 40lacs + on a chartered flight from Delhi to London, for example, and inldulge in a better shopping experience there” Mr Kapoor explained.

Stepping Stones
According to Mr Gupta, brands that would work well in such a concept really depends on the promoter’s vision with regard to the positioning of the store. “If one looks at La Rinascente in Milan, it carries brands from all segments and is one of the busiest stores in the world. Similarly, Central in Bangkok is also beginning to add luxury brands. A multi-brand store up to just premium brands or another right through to all levels of luxury - both could work in India,” he said. On another note, he also shared what was to love about the concept. “For a country where the market has not evolved to a brand loyal consumer, a multi-brand concept gives him a chance to see, feel, compare and then buy what he finds most appealing. It also allows him to experiment with different brands and lets him mix and match,” he said.

Malls like The Palladium in Mumbai have tried to do something similar, but with the brand placement mixed up, without any sense of categorisation, the concept hasn’t gone down too well with the uber-rich HNI consumers. Indian cities have also brushed their shoulders with high-end luxury brands housed under one mighty roof. Bangalore’s beautiful UB City Mall and Delhi’s DLF Emporio bear witness to the new age Indian who is ready to match their step with the international consumers. But is it enough and working?

Mr Kapoor, however, takes a separate route. “Given the current offerings within the Indian markets, the store should cater to ultra luxury/premium exclusive brands from all sectors, such as Lala Rose Lingerie, London Denim Jeans for Women, Devon Works Denim for Men, exclusive jewellery from the likes of E.L.J and other bespoke houses, going beyond the usual brands. Haute Horlogerie should include the likes of Cecil Purnell or Devon Works. There should be a bespoke section for every item, be it men’s shoes by 59BondSt or a custom created watch for a client,” he said. He furthered that each item sold at the store should be exclusive which would guarantee the customer an exhilarating experience as well as giving such a concept a USP. The choice it brings to the customer would be vast and extremely attractive as India would never have seen such a concept and there are very few experts in India who would understand how to implement such an idea.

“The concept will also give many brands an opportunity to display their products and services to the target audience, allowing them to test the responsiveness and awareness of their brands prior to investing in India on a larger scale. Coupled with this, the smaller boutique brands would get the perfect opportunity to showcase themselves, as many know that these exclusive, boutique brands provide the most perfect service and creations with an underlying benefit that you will be the only owner of the given design or item,” shared Mr Kapoor.

Time to take notice
Majestic arches, countless counters and classy yet friendly staff manages to get the adrenaline pumping for some while the rest shop to their hearts content at standalone stores. According to Mr Kapoor, the preference really depends on two factors - the shopper’s individual choice and the purpose of the shopping or what the consumer is looking for. “Personally if the concept is offering the best brands, with a regular update in the collection so that only the best is available at all times, I would of course prefer to shop at such a store. But should the store offer brands already available at flagship/monobrand stores, I would go there, as they would naturally have a larger variety and possibly even the full collections. The level of service is also very important. If I know more about the product than the customer representative, then I would prefer not to shop there. I personally enjoy a wide array of choices, so the multi-brand store would be preferential, but not somewhere like The Collective which lack pizzazz and the products available are quite higher than Europe prices,” he shared.

On a positive note, Mr Gupta opined that any city in India could make this work starting with Delhi / Mumbai onwards. Agreeing with him, Mr Kapoor also thought that any city in India would work well, taking the proportional scale and audience into account. “One of the key reasons of success of such a concept would be the different cultures in each city. Ideally each city would house similar, if not the same brands, as well as certain brands exclusive to the region to cater to their specific tastes,” he said.

With India’s topography changing face every second, who knows when a similar concept will make its mark in our country? If we are lucky, Harrods and Selfridges will notice the country’s shopping fashionistas and make their presence felt here. Till then, all we can do is wait and watch and hope!

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