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Making Indian Malls World Class

The Indian Shopping Mall Industry is evolving. Developers can learn a lot from other more successful mature markets.

But first things first ...

How Do You Design A Good Shopping Mall ? Designing a good mall is a coordinated strategy with many interdependent factors reinforcing one another across different levels. It starts with ...

Pre-Design Study:

  • Thorough understanding of the market & target customer: This usually includes location/catchment profiling, feasibility/due diligence reports, competition analysis, etc.

  • Vision of the developer: Differentiation factors, prices points, leasing/selling/revenue sharing model, structure of financing etc. This leads to a clear cut mall positioning statement & shopper profile.

Concept Design:

  • Story: Good malls always have a story to tell.

  • Relevance: Good malls are relevant to their location.

  • Understanding A Mall's Social Responsibility : The mall has become an important fabric of communal space. Its used by thousands. Hence responsible design is a must.

  • Trends in Mall Design: Shopping centres are becoming food & entertainment destinations. The goal is to present a wholesome experience.


Good shopping centres have clear, effective circulation routes.

  • Zoning: It is very important to decide which floors will have what type of merchandise. Generally, hypermarkets are on the lower ground/basement floors (due to proximity to parking & larger floor plates), ladies items on the ground floor (impulse buy), items for men are on the first floor, bulk or pre-planned items on the top floors (HDIT, furniture, books, cinemas,and food courts).​

  • Anchors: Placement of anchors governs basic spine/mall axes. Will it be a circuit mall / linear mall / keyhole mall?

  • Circulation between floors: Placement of escalators / lifts / travelators is critical.

  • Placement of vanilla shops: Once anchors are positioned along with vertical circulation routes, smaller or vanilla shops are located for maximum visibility, frontage and exposure.

  • Visibility across floors: It is very important to see a mall across different levels, which gives visual unity and allows the shopper to see the merchandise available at one single glance. Atriums facilitate this.

  • Location of service yards: Service yards need comfortable movement of smaller (tempos, trucks, etc) and larger (40 foot trailers) vehicles. Points to keep in mind are the turning radii, loading-unloading platforms, location of anchors, service cores, garbage areas, staff entry/exit, etc.

  • Parking: Ease of parking is very essential to the success of any shopping centre. This includes easy entry and exit, automation, surface/basement/multi-level parking. For a developer, parking should coordinate with structural grid to maximise parking space utilisation. Also mode of payment for parking is very essential for developer revenue

  • Entry/exits into the mall: Design should coordinate with public transportation hubs. Arrival should be an experience loaded with anticipation. Malls should have adequate and comfortable facilities for the physically challenged.

  • Fire norms: Need mandatory municipal approval and govern placement of fire escapes/staircases, etc.

Interior Planning Guidelines :

  • Shop fronts play a very important role in mall interiors and selling of merchandise. The bulkheads, the store signage policy, the merchandise display zone - all need to be designed and documented into a manual. The mall management team should ensure that each retailer follows these tenancy guidelines to maintain design consistency.

  • Common areas need to be muted and should compliment the shop front design. They should not fight with the merchandise. Rather they should make the merchandise stand out.

  • Lighting plays a huge role in setting the mood of the interiors. Research says that people like shopping in natural daylight. Hence, lux levels should match daylight yet at the same time provide enough focus, warmth and interest.

  • Signage and kiosks add a significant percentage to mall revenues. Successful malls plan and utilise every inch of sellable space. Public amenities such as toilets, creches, ATMs, and information desks need to be pre-planned for traffic.

  • Easy and constant maintenance of mall facilities is a must considering the scale of the building and the huge traffic it attracts. In India, dust plays a major role in governing design decisions - besides the unskilled labour force and unavailability of proper maintenance materials and tools.

Elevation & Exterior Design :

Simplicity elevation design and signage treatment is important.

  • Entrances must be clearly defined.

  • Signage needs to be organised. Here, less means more. If there is too much signage on the elevation, it feels like clutter and there seems no focus. Maintenance is a huge concern for outdoor signage, exterior surfaces and lighting. Malls need proper access by way of catwalks, vertical lifts, top hung platforms, etc.

  • Landscape and drop off zones are very important external design elements. They must complement the mall elevation and drop off traffic patterns. Flooring materials must be chosen appropriately. They should be well lit, safe, and insect free.

  • Fire clearances need to be stringently followed to meet relevant setbacks. These require proper movement of a fire engine round the building. It must also be ensured that fire escapes exit into open air areas.

Services Design :

Although following are the less glamorous aspects of mall design, these are in fact the arteries of a shopping mall.

  • Generators including their subdivision for anchors and alternate running times.

  • Rain water harvesting and other mandatory environmental requirements.

  • Larger projects demand site approval on environment clearance.

  • HVAC systems including their system of metering for each retailer. This has always been a bone of contention between the retailer and developer.

  • CAM charges increase daily on diesel price hike, which needs to be controlled holistically by the developer and the state.

  • Basement ventilation and exhaust systems should be properly planned.

  • Security should be the priority. Pilferage and theft are the major concerns for retailers in any mall. Hence, adequate use of CCTVs is a must.

Where do Indian Malls Lack?

There are some areas where Indian shopping malls are still lacking.

  • Lack of vision by the developer: In an effort to maximise selling space, retailers forget that the mall needs a story, a focus, and a concept. Deep thought into the “soul” of a mall is very important to create vibrant retail spaces. Because a mall is a societal structure, it needs to be planned more responsibly and for longevity.

  • Zoning: Zoning is rarely persisted with. Frequently, Indian malls try to be all things to all people. The positioning is not crystal clear. So you have all types of shops all over the place.

  • Placement of Escalators & Lifts: These need to be placed to make it convenient for the shopper to move easily across floors, buy what he wants to and leave. If he likes the mall, he will spend more time there and consequently buy more. However, if he has to struggle to find escalators/ lifts or has to walk miles to reach them, the shopper will get tired and give up, which means he did not like the mall, and will come back only if there is no second choice.

  • Parking Woes: In many Indian malls, parking is a very under utilised and badly planned space - especially the basements. This is becoming a bigger problem as the number of vehicles increase. The placement of services/columns vis-a-vis parking bays and turns, the ease of entry/ exit, automation, streamlining of revenue, signage, lighting, colour, all needs improvement. Traffic planning consultants could to be involved during the concept design level to facilitate more efficient parking layouts.

  • Mall Circulation: Circulation within the mall needs long and deep deliberation. Many Indian malls have dead ends. There are gullies with no view from the atrium. Anchor placement is haphazard, corridors are narrow and sight lines are not thought of. The shopping trolley is under-thought, under-utilised and wrongly specified. All this makes for an under-productive and unattractive mall.

  • Atrium designs: A lot of shopping centres in India are guilty of producing disproportionate atrium designs that either overwhelm or suffocate the shopper. The human scale and the building sections have been largely ignored.

  • Inconsistency in shop front design: Largely, Indian mall developers do not enforce tenancy guidelines strictly. Consequently, common areas lack in design integrity and consistency. So the effect is more chaotic. Shop frontage sizes are governed by shop sizes and placement. To attract anchors, many malls provide them with disproportionate frontages and entrances, which leads to shortage of adequate frontage for smaller shops that yield a better per square feet rental.

  • Overbearing common area design: By virtue of Indians being very festive and colourful, common area spaces are designed as bold, glossy and saturated zones. The designs clash with existing merchandise. Consequently, you have more clutter and the merchandise fights with the common areas interior design.

  • Uninspired common areas interior design: Some common errors that mall design teams do are dim and dull lighting, no story/ concept/theme, lack of design consistency, disproportionate scale and use of materials. All this results in cold uninviting common areas. Shopping needs warmth.

  • Materials usage: At times, to keep the costs low, durability,maintenance and sourcing get less attention than they should over the long term.

  • Convenience facilities: Toilets are an area of concern in Indian malls. To increase shopping area, their sizes are reduced or placed at alternate floors or located at odd locations. Designers need to cater for such conveniences early in the design process. Unlike malls abroad, Indian shopping centres still lack other convenience facilities like crèches/baby handling rooms, foreign exchange kiosks, concierge counters, etc.

  • External facade: Another common error is the placement of too much signage on the mall facade-- resulting in a chaotic front elevation. External signage needs regulation. Developers should focus on the big guys and give them adequate signage. Aim of signage is to attract and be read. Too much signage adds chaos and prevents legibility for any.

  • Services: Indian weather demands proper air conditioning and ventilation - especially of double height spaces, basements/lower ground floors. Details that matter in the placement of services are view, access, drainage, safety, and ventilation.

  • Signage: Navigation is an area that is still to mature in our mall designs. Shopping centres need to provide more location map counters, help desks, mall floor plan handouts -- both within the mall and downloadable from the mall website.

  • Online/social media strategies: Barring a few, shopping malls still do not use the web to their advantage. Ideas to use include dedicated web sites, downloadable floor plans, Facebook/Twitter pages, newsletters, web only offers, photo galleries, etc. All of these help in preparing the shopper for an effective shopping experience.

How Malls Succeed...

The idea for developers and mall designers is to build repeatability into their schemes and layouts. Since malls are huge structures with enormous infrastructure costs and serving a lot of people at a time, design should strive to increase mall longevity, attractiveness and build the brand at the same time. Good design invites shoppers to the mall and makes them want to comeback. The more they stay and come, the more they shop and spend. Similarly, the more money the mall generates, the more return the developer gets. And it becomes a win-win cycle.

*The above is an abridged version of our article published in the April 2013 edition of 'Shopping Centre News" -- India's leading retail magazine. Download the full unabridged article here.

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