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BENGALURU : Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group International has opened its new shopping mall in Bengaluru, after the pandemic somewhat delayed its mall development pipeline in India. Global Malls, an eight lakh sq ft property in Rajajinagar, opened on Monday and is spread across 14 acres.

The mall will have a 2 lakh sq ft Lulu Hypermarket and a 60,000 sq ft entertainment zone ‘Funtura’.

Lulu Group has invested 5000 crore in five properties in the country - Lulu Mall Kochi and Y Mall Triprayar are operational, Global Malls, Bengaluru, and Trivandrum and Lucknow will open soon. While the company usually owns and operates its own malls, Lulu has the leasehold and management rights to the Bengaluru mall.

Mall projects, stalled since the onset of the pandemic, are picking up pace this year, with an estimated 4.5 million sq ft of new supply added in 2021, according to Anarock Property Consultants. The fresh supply, most of which is expected to come up in Bengaluru, Mumbai and Noida, is significantly lower than the 8.5 million sq ft added across the top cities in 2019. In an interview, Lulu Group chairman and managing director M.A Yusuf Ali spoke about the recovery of the retail sector, co-existence of online and offline retail and India being an important part in its growth plans. Edited excerpts:

How has the pandemic impacted Lulu’s mall business?

A lot of things changed because of covid. We couldn’t travel and all the plans had to be revisited. After our malls in Kerala, our next venture in India is in Bengaluru. There have been some delays but we had decided last year itself that we wouldn’t back out from projects that we had decided on. There have been some delays and so, we are fast-tracking things. In UAE, even during covid, we have opened 18 hypermarkets and shopping malls over the last 15-18 months. People are coming back in large numbers to our malls in UAE and India.

How would Lulu Malls position itself in the post-covid era?

In Bengaluru, for instance, the focus is on the Lulu hypermarket, and we have mastered the ‘hypermarket’ model over a period of time. Post covid, food habits of people have changed. Many new sections and categories, which were not as popular earlier, especially in the health and hygiene segment, have been added. Covid has also made people more particular about their health and fitness regimes. Categories such as personal hygiene, super foods, healthy foods, organic foods, fitness, and sports have seen tremendous growth in the last two years. We have included all these categories in our portfolio to ensure that our customers want for nothing. Secondly, the design and layout of Global Malls and our other upcoming malls have been planned in accordance with covid safety protocols. We have wide alleys, corridors, and shopping aisles, to aid social distancing, and promote the health and safety of shoppers.

How will malls compete with the huge surge in online shopping?

Covid has changed the way people shop and live. The online market has definitely picked up but at the end of the day, we all love the touch and feel, and the physical experience of shopping. While online business will thrive, offline will also continue to grow, especially since people have been stuck in their homes for almost two years now. Malls are here to stay. We expect both the segments to grow simultaneously. We will be launching our online business in Bangalore as well because we want to provide an omni-channel shopping experience for our customers. While our first phase is offline shopping with Global Malls, the second phase will be online. Our customers can shop for their regular grocery products online at Lulu Hypermarket, while for their bigger shopping needs such as food and beverages, apparel, and lifestyle products, the focus will always be on offline shopping.

What are Lulu Group’s future plans in the retail segment?

We have projects coming up in Trivandrum and Lucknow by the first quarter of 2022. The Trivandrum mall should get launched by the end of this year. This is the first phase of our expansion in India. We are looking at similar projects across major cities in India for the second phase of expansion. While no business has been immune to the pandemic over the last two years, I am confident that it is just a matter of time before the retail sector bounces back. With the festive season around the corner, I expect to witness a strong revival in the retail industry, with people stepping out to shop."

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