Mall revolution back home blows away visiting NRIs (Special)

June 23rd, 2008 - 12:05 pm ICT by IANS  

By Kul Bhushan
“Mind blowing,” said my Indian friend from Dubai after visiting a shopping mall. No, he was not commenting on a shopping mall in Dubai but one in New Delhi. He said it was one of the biggest and most modern shopping complexes he had seen. Plus, it had lots of shoppers with bags. Mind you, he is a very well-travelled person and knows what he is talking about; so if he was overwhelmed it was because of the sheer size and the ambience of the newest mall that covers 1.3 million sq ft spread over six acres in south Delhi with 125 shops, a cinema, restaurants and a huge cultural open space.

Just outside the southern limits of the city, in neighbouring Gurgaon, over 30 malls have sprouted in the last six years. This centre for BPO (business process outsourcing) has young professionals with high disposable incomes who need to live it up and thus the malls are chock-a-block with huge signs and trappings.

Gurgaon has almost come to be known as ‘Mini Dubai’. No wonder a proper Gold Souk came up here with over 250 jewellers from all over India to cater to the wedding market and the new super rich.

Similarly, huge malls have come up in west, north and east Delhi, and across the state border in Noida. These malls have come up in all big Indian cities, moved on to smaller cities and now to smaller towns as well, just because there are buyers out there even in places like Meerut and Lucknow with money to spend.

When confronted with upper middle class fashion products in the malls, Indians staying abroad usually get taken aback as all this does not fit into the image of the country they left many decades ago. Yes, they know that India is a rising economic power and the back-office of the world, but the poor state of the masses stuck in poverty and overall lack of cleanliness in the towns and cities does not fit with these squeaky clean, sanitised, hassle-free places to go shopping for global brands that used to be available only to them abroad.

And when my friend saw the malls, he said, “Now I know India is moving up.” But the big question is: are these islands of plenty in a sea of poverty? The answer is ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and it depends on how to view today’s India. If you are only looking at the poverty, then India has one of the highest numbers of poor people (earning less than a dollar a day) in the world. If you are looking at progress, then India has arrived with high growth and more people rising out of poverty in the last decade than any other time. The overall ‘look’ of urban India is not all glass, chrome and neon.

More significantly, India’s retail sector has yet to take off. A paper by the Tata Strategic Management Group states that India, like Britain, is a nation of shopkeepers. With over 12 million retail outlets, India probably has the highest density of retail outlets in the world, with one for approximately every 90 people. Little wonder that the country is the ninth largest retail market in the world, with an estimated annual retail sales of around $215 billion in 2005. At the same time, the share of organised trade in this enormous market is currently very small. It was estimated at just $8 billion in 2005, up from $6.25 billion in 2004. This accounts for less than four percent of the total retail trade in the country.

Thus the big retailers around the world, be they Wal-Mart from the US, Tesco from Britain or Carrefour and Intermarch

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