It almost seemed like a giant vacuum cleaner had gobbled its way through Phoenix Mills in central Mumbai. Overnight, all the scaffolding, corrugated tin sheets and swathes of cement-caked jute had vanished to reveal the facade of new luxury mall Palladium. All in good time for the festive season in October.

Pre-festive launch: The Palladium–High Street Phoenix mall in Mumbai is set to open on 26 September, at least a month earlier than expected. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint

“We’ve literally white-washed the place for Diwali," says Gayatri Ruia, development director for Palladium–High Street Phoenix, which will open to the public on 26 September, at least a month earlier than expected.

While only 20 of the 60 brands to be housed there will actually be ready for business, the management is keen to launch early. “The idea is to improve their experience here, get people to walk through the mall and drum up some excitement closer to Diwali," Ruia says.

Several recent indicators suggest that the worst is behind us, but mall developers and retailers aren’t taking any chances this festive season.

While some such as writing instrument brand Montblanc are looking to expand their reach with their first ad campaign in 10 years featuring actors Anil and Sonam Kapoor, others such as Cadbury India Ltd, India Yamaha Motor Pvt. Ltd and Kansai Nerolac Paints Ltd are launching their festive campaigns far earlier and for longer durations than usual. Consumer durables, auto, jewellery and apparel companies, which typically rely on the festive season for a sizeable chunk of their sales, are also looking to reach consumers where it really matters—at the point of sale, fighting fit and ready to compete for their share of the consumer’s wallet.

“Basically, we have to set the mood right," says Anuj Jain, vice-president (sales and marketing) at Kansai Nerolac Paints, which has launched five different television commercials for the festive season, against the usual two.

Headstart: While only 20 of the 60 brands to be housed at Palladium will be available when it opens, the management is keen to launch early. Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint

“It’s not like people don’t have the money, so the idea is to focus on activities that will trigger spending," he says, adding that the company was spending an equal amount on promotions and activities to drive sales at the store level this year, against the usual 70:30 ratio in favour of traditional media such as television.

The aggressive battle plans for the festive season are not so surprising. According to Boston Analytics Pvt. Ltd, a Mumbai-based research and analytics firm, consumer sentiment and spending continued to take a hit for the sixth month in a row in August on the back of fears about an uncertain future, delayed and weak monsoon and a sluggish job market.

Data for August showed that 91% of the consumers surveyed reported an increase in their basic necessities expenditure over the prior year as against 75% of the respondents with the same opinion in July. So, as consumers spend more on essentials such as food, their ability and inclination to spend on non-essential categories such as apparel is likely to be affected, experts say.

Furthermore, 92% of the respondents surveyed in August felt they were likely to spend more on basic necessities over the next year, a good 15 percentage points higher than the number in July, possibly leading to some restraint from consumers who are willing to wait for that perfect deal during the festive season.

No wonder then that mall owners and retailers are going all out to encourage consumers to spend. The World Gold Council (WGC) is taking a more aggressive stand this year by launching its own event, as opposed to just sponsorships or promotional tie-ups with brands. It’s giving away 1.5kg of gold this festive season as a part of its month-long “Great Indian Gold Rush", which kicks off on 19 September, the longest promotion it’s had so far.

“Seventy percent of the gold consumption in India is linked to the festive and wedding season, so it was extremely important for us to have attractive promotions during this time," says Madhumita Dutta, head of marketing development (India) for WGC. “The idea was to capitalize on practically every gold buying occasion, including Dussehra, Dhanteras, Diwali, Bhai Duj and Karva Chauth."

Ditto for the Gitanjali Group, which has increased its ad spending by 50% this year and doubled its spending on in-store promotions. “We want a lot of uptake at the store level, the focus this year is to get people in," says Shardah Uniyal, general manager (marketing) for the Gitanjali Group, which recently launched an interactive contest that allows consumers to chat with brand ambassador Kareena Kapoor and win discounts and other goodies that can be redeemed at its stores.

Several brands, including the Gitanjali Group, Levi Strauss (India) Pvt. Ltd and Yamaha India, have launched equated monthly instalment (EMI) schemes for the first time, to encourage consumers to buy now and pay back in instalments. “It was about breaking the mental barrier, more than anything else," says Pankaj Dubey, national business head at India Yamaha Motor, which launched EMI schemes for its premium bikes.

Beyond low EMIs and interest free financing, some brands are offering free gifts in place of cash discounts. Consumer electronics brand, Samsung, for example, is spending Rs25 crore on assured gifts that compliment its products, along with a new ad campaign, which will be “advertised heavily". “We are expecting a 40% jump in sales for the two-month festive period," says R. Zutshi, deputy managing director at Samsung India Electronics Ltd.

At Phoenix Mills, home decor stores Soma and Yamini are going to launch loyalty programmes for the first time to ensure traffic at their stores, while the mall developer will try and pull in the crowds by getting people in the mood for some spending. On the agenda this year at Phoenix Mills, for example, are promotions across brands and handicraft stalls in walk-throughs by NGOs to “support a good cause and effectively reduce shopper guilt", says Alex Coutinho, marketing (head) at High Street Phoenix, the mall.

This year also marks a difference in strategy, as retailers and mall managers are working more closely together to attract consumers. “There is definitely a marked difference in attitudes," says Girish Pande, chief operating officer at E-City Property Management and Services Pvt. Ltd which manages 14-malls nationwide, in cities such as Jaipur, Hyderabad, Gwalior and Chandigarh, among others.

“Till last year, barely 20% of retailers would participate or support a mall event. Now, there is a realization that we need to work together…this year the number is up to 75%," he says, pointing to a recent mall event at the Fun Republic mall in Lucknow, where 80% of the actual event cost of Rs10 lakh was raised through sponsored gifts and media barters from resident retailers.

Experts say that the enthusiasm is likely to stay high for the coming months, as brands will do what they can to sell to the more discerning consumer. “What we will see this year are extended promotions starting now and running up till March next year," says Arvind Singhal, chairman of Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd. “Usually there is a huge burst at Diwali, it slows down a bit and then perks up again in time for the wedding season. However, this year, brands will keep the tempo up in the hope that some of the enthusiasm will rub off on consumers."

Singhal expects brands to introduce new product ranges, lower price points, value-based advertising and bundled offers, this festive season.