Retail in India, I feel is a totally different story, as compared to retail in any other country. It is more of a cultural aspect than anything else, according to me. We as Indians are wired differently and for us, a shopping experience is not more about finding everything under one roof, as it is about going from shop to shop. Tell me, do we, and I speak of the ardent shoppers, feel happy and content after making a bulk purchase at one single shop? I, for one, don't. I feel like I have let go of some opportunity, in picking up all my bargains at one single shop. For this reason, I feel that retail in India is an all new ballgame, with the players needing to concentrate on how to break into the Indian psyche, and make a point.
Take for instance shopping malls in India. A typical mall in a foreign country has a whole host of shops that sell anything and everything from clothes to coffee to sweets to jewellery. And in India, that concept somehow doesn't seem possible, since for many jewellery shopping doesn't begin and end at People's, but rather begins at Zaveri Bazaar, goes all the way through Tanishq and ends perhaps at the place suggested by so and so's grandmother, since that shop is very conscious of quality.
How do we go shopping for clothes? We segregate our purchases into good clothes and replaceable clothes. So, the good clothes are bought at an upmarket place, while the use and throw variety is generally picked up anywhere. Likewise, furniture. The whole concept of assemble-it-yourself furniture is unknown to us. We need a cabinet made, we call Pandu the carpenter, who brings along another helper and wham! a cabinet is ready in 3 days, and the cabinet fits snugly into the 2 feet by 3.75 feet nook we pointed out to Pandu. So, that Ikea pulled out of its plans to enter India, is not very surprising to me.
Malls have mushroomed in India, more so in Mumbai over the past few years. But the funniest part is that some of these malls have sprung up in the heart of the 'flea market' shopping districts. I speak specifically of a couple of malls in Dadar in Mumbai. I, for one, could not understand why someone would set up shop while in direct competition with the road side shops who care two hoots about long term sustainability and margins. All they need is to turn in a profit for that day, so they can eat that night! Tomorrow is a new story that can be tackled separately.
What poses a question to me, rather is what the nature of retail in India, really is? Will malls continue to be looked upon as places to hang out in and nothing else? Will Mumbai see the closing down of many more of the mushroomed malls, like it happened with Crossroads? Will the Indian consumer get out of the traditional mindset and look beyond the shop around the corner? And also, what is the scope of organized retail in India, say retail through the internet, and what can incentivize the Indian consumer and hence the retailer to pursue the same goals?