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Abu Dhabi-based Lulu Group International has opened a shopping mall in Bengaluru after the pandemic somewhat delayed its mall development pipeline in India. Global Malls, an 800,000 sq. ft property in Rajajinagar, opened on Monday and is spread across 14 acres. The mall has a 200,000 sq. ft Lulu Hypermarket and a 60,000 sq. ft Funtura entertainment zone. Lulu Group has invested 5,000 crore in five properties in the country. Lulu Mall (Kochi), Y Mall (Triprayar) and Global Malls (Bengaluru) are operational, while the ones in Thiruvananthapuram and Lucknow will open soon. The company usually owns and operates its own malls. However, in the case of the Bengaluru mall, Lulu has the leasehold and management rights.

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 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. Yusuff Ali spoke about the recovery of the retail sector, coexistence of online and offline retail and India being an important part of the company’s 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. 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 the 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 the 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.

Second, the design and layout of Global Malls and 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, the physical experience of shopping. Online business will thrive, but offline will also continue to grow, especially as 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 launch our online business in Bengaluru as well because we want to provide an omnichannel shopping experience for our customers. Our first phase is offline shopping with Global Malls, while 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 Thiruvananthapuram and Lucknow by the first quarter of 2022. The Thiruvananthapuram mall should be 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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