Indiaretailing.com: Culture Curry

Discussion
May 29, 2008

Through a special arrangement, what follows is an excerpt of an article from Indiaretailing.com, presented here for discussion. The author’s company, Advance India Projects, are the developers and creators of The Celebration Malls – India’s first attempt to marry ethnic cultures and architecture with western conveniences and shopping environments – in Amritsar, Udaipur and Ambala.

By Sanjay Sachdeva, senior vice president, Advance India Projects

We are a nation ready to be mauled, or shall I say malled, but are we diluting our culture in this retail curry that is cooking?

India Shining loves glitz – that is no secret. Give us soaring buildings with
gleaming glass facades, and we think modernity and progress have come to stay.
But is the India itch to think global good for the local?

According to Robert Adam, one of the leading UK architects, the answer is NO. These malls and buildings are an example of how India is blindly aping the West.

The best of international brands in fashion are hitting our malls; the finest of international pubs, bars and fast food brands – among the most recognized names globally – are the familiar façades covering most of the malls coming up in our country.

In the middle of all this, though, we are Indians at heart. Are we really into adapting our entire lifestyles around an alien culture, or are we choosing to ditch our basics – our culture that is so rich in traditions and hospitality, and so deeply ingrained in our psyche?

Yes, the Indian youth have aspirations and do want to buy the latest fashion brands, but hey, aren’t we missing something here? Like our cuisines, our rich ethnic products, local regional shops, our fabrics and textiles, and style of shopping?

With over 600 malls coming up and retail space set to exceed 50 million square feet – an average size of 1,000 square feet per brand – India will soon have over 50,000 shops. However, with only 300 national-level brands available at the moment, what do you think most of these malls will look like? There will be an identical mix of tenants in most of these properties and the very same brands will be available in each of these malls, simply because of the oversupply that is bound to happen.

So, either 700 more brands should be created in the next two years – which is not very likely – or we should adapt to the Indian model and promote smaller Indian retailers, which have become local brands in their own right.

Deep down, culture is difficult to destroy. The Chinese tried to do it to the Tibetan culture, but it still lives and thrives. However, as global communication increases and the world gets flatter, certain aspects of our culture and traditions do become vulnerable and fragile. I believe that mall developers, like us, need to play a part in preventing that from happening.

Discussion Question: How can India capitalize on the modernity to its retail structure that western retailers promise to bring – yet preserve its unique culture? What can India learn from other countries – or even distinct regions in the U.S. – that have succeeding in capitalizing on local roots as their retail structure developed?

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8 Comments on "Indiaretailing.com: Culture Curry"


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Craig Sundstrom
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

My initial response was to say “of course…doesn’t it always?”

Less superficially, though, the answer clearly depends on what we mean by “culture.” I think it’s fair to say that what people have in mind with “Western” is actually more accurately described as lower cost/higher efficiency; or is it? If reinforced concrete replaces mud-brick construction, is this a simple improvement or a cultural loss? Is self-service vs. full-service simply a service issue or a cultural issue? I’m not sure. And, of course, it could be argued that much of what we are describing as “Western culture” replaced what once existed in the West as well: it’s not so much “Western culture” as no culture at all.

Mary Baum
Guest
Mary Baum
13 years 11 months ago

It would seem to me that the market will decide, and sooner rather than later. Will people flock to the malls and snap up the merchandise? Or will the globalized assortments languish on the markdown racks for months after they get shipped in?

My guess is that the reality will fall in between the two–that certain categories will go Western, particularly in the short term, but that others will need more of a local slant.

I would think, with the actual factories closer to the Indian markets than the US and Europe (at least in some cases) and better project-management and design technology, which helps brands tailor production to the preferences of particular market segments, it shouldn’t be much of a problem to accommodate any culture’s preferences–even in special production runs of established, global brands.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 11 months ago

Sacred cows in India’s bustling streets

Are not compatible to Wal-Mart’s fleets.

It’s been said “East is East and West is West,”

Now India’s culture will face a test.

Will they preserve their belief in tradition

Or will big assortments cause a rendition?

Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
Guest
Pradip V. Mehta, P.E.
13 years 11 months ago
India can capitalize on the modernity to its retail structure by adopting best business practices that western retailers have refined over the years, i.e. respect for the customers, excellence in supply chain resulting in better prices for consumers, excellent customer service to include policy such as “satisfaction guaranteed or money back, no questions asked,” price guarantee/protection for a certain period of time, addressing consumer product safety, etc. These are the things that can be practiced while preserving unique culture that India has. One does not necessarily have to subscribe to “Mall mania” in order to take advantage of what the western retailers have to offer. In Indian context, where most consumers do not own a vehicle, a “stand alone store” concept may be more successful than malls. The stand alone stores in different localities can have localized stock assortment and can have local artisans and farmers as part of the supplier base, and yet can have a part of the stock assortment that is common to all stores. In order to be able to take… Read more »
Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 11 months ago

The question implies that Western retailing is a consistent culture, but it isn’t. If India copies certain European countries who’ve severely restricted the development of new retail space, there will probably be a better quality of life and better profitability for India’s new retail chains. If India copies the American model of unrestricted square footage growth, then Indian retailers will experience the American cycle of excessive expansion, periodic busts, and inconsistent profits.

India is a socialist country and by sticking to socialism, the country’s standard of living, and its retail profitability, will continue upwards. If India moves to the right, economically, abandoning socialism, millions of small retailers will lose their livelihoods and the large chains will just kill each other’s profitability.

Vikram Ketkar
Guest
Vikram Ketkar
13 years 11 months ago

Indian culture survives to this day, while other ancient cultures no longer exist, due to the fact that it has assimilated something from every culture it has come into contact with. It has imbibed cultural influences in its unique way such that within a few generations or even a few decades, Indians cannot make a distinction of it being foreign. There’s Paneer (Indian cottage cheese) Tikka burgers at McDonald’s, Indian-Chinese food at road side stalls…and Hinglish (Hindi + English).

Malls will continue to be ‘western’ until they are a novelty and very soon they will be Indianized and will barely be distinguished from the traditional Indian bazaars

Jerry Gelsomino
Guest
13 years 11 months ago
I think this is a very exciting time for retailing in the East. Both India and China, from what I am currently focused on, have a growing middle class, who have an intense desire to accumulate worldly things. But at the same time, these countries have millions more farmers or city dwellers who are well below the countries’ own poverty levels. Now add in the mix of Western retail, i.e. Wal-Mart, Starbucks, etc, and you have an interesting curry/noodles to say the least. What my hope is that the best of our technologies, methods and technique of excellent retail is combined with the products and culture of these countries to make an even better retail world. Let’s not shove our same products, services and store or mall design onto those countries that are different from America or Europe, particularly on the middle class there. Companies might have more luck with that on the prestige section of those marketplaces who, at first glance, appear to want to emulate the West, before celebrating their own culture.
K Satish
Guest
K Satish
13 years 3 months ago

Historically, Indians enjoy shopping in Melas (Assembly of shoppers). The mall culture is just an extension of this. But there are some other serious matters to keep in mind. One of them is male to female ratio. As per almost all kinds of research, women do the most shopping in India. If women are fewer in number, who is going to buy???

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