Gazing through a crystal ball
Updated: Apr 26, 2021
Sometime in the third quarter of 2021
A lot of changes had happened in the Chopra household over the years, but nothing came close to the miracle that was taking place. Ajay was shocked to see his family ready for the trip to the mall today, they were ready an hour early. They were going shopping for Diwali and dinner at their favorite restaurant. It had only been a week ago when they had missed their appointment at the mall, they had been late by 40 minutes.
Ever since COVID 19, shopping had changed significantly. Until the new year, malls had not opened for any length of time. There had been openings that lasted no more than a fortnight in September and then in November. Both times the government had to announce shutdown of the malls as infections spiked. It was only in late January that the malls began opening again.
Before the pandemic, they would visit the malls umpteen times. Ajay met his buddies at least once in the weekend nights at the brewpub. It wasn’t unusual for him to meet clients for lunch at one of the restaurants in the mall near his office during the day. Snehal, his wife, and her friends had their kitty parties usually at one of the malls on weekdays. His twin girls, both of whom finally started college in October last year, probably lived in the malls before the lockdown.
The malls were themselves no longer the places it used to be. A lot had changed since the opening in January. They were the places people went to for entertainment; the malls offered concerts, restaurants now usually had live music, and there were competitions happening. One of the happening bands was playing today and they had tickets at the open-air pavilion. But malls were also super strict, they had RFID tags on the hand of all visitors and displayed the number of visitors inside the mall in tickers. You could be arrested and banned from entering the mall if you were caught without the tag. Screening for viruses was mandatory as well.
Every mall had restrictions on the number of visitors allowed, hence the reservation process. Some malls had even come up with membership schemes and allowed entry only to members on holidays and premium shopping time. There was a limit to the number of hours people could spend in a mall at a time. All this had spawned new apps, you now had apps that booked mall entries. There were apps that showed waiting times and occupancy rates. Apps also flagged up virus recording, a virus detection could ruin the mall's footfalls for a week as they had to do thorough sanitation.
Much against opinion, malls hadn’t become defunct post the virus; they had reinvented themselves as entertainment hubs now. Gone were the bargain shops, shops that sold low-value items became unviable due to the increased cost. A lot of regular shopping happened online or in the neighborhood Kirana/convenience shops. Malls became digital too, they had digital versions where customers could see what was available and buyers still came to the malls for touch and feel.
Malls themselves were alive with technologies. Some of the malls had tags that had proximity sensors that warned people for getting too close. Malls had installed fast virus test kits that spewed results in 15 minutes, which meant everyone entered a 15-minute quarantine zone before they were allowed inside the mall. The mall the Chopras’ were visiting was the first to install the UV sanitizer curtain. This was an Israeli innovation, in which you passed through a UV chamber and all viruses on the person or objects would be killed. It provided a health assurance to the customers of immense value that they now had a membership waitlist and a black market was existing for their membership. The Israel company’s technology couldn’t be cracked, other imitations failed as they were found to cause side effects such as skin irritation and in infants, impacted eyesight.
At this point, I will pause the story and get back to reality. This story might resemble some of Asimov’s imagination of the future but is quite a feasible reality. In the time I sent it to my friend who is the CEO of a mall and got his feedback, I got the news that Phillips is launching a device that will use UV to ensure viruses is killed in foodstuff and vegetables that we buy. I am sure there are other emerging technologies as well.
Are malls ready to die? No, they aren’t and owners will be aghast at the idea.
Will they be required to change the way they operate? I guess no rational gambler would bet against this requirement. It is quite possible that we will not have a realistic vaccine for the virus for 12 or 18 months. It is possible that the virus will keep appearing in clusters for the foreseeable future and we may have to adapt our way of living.
My bet is that malls will analyze the way they can continue to be relevant. The business model will change for certain. They will focus on assuring personal health in a way the streets can’t. They will focus on ensuring non-crowding in a way other public places can’t. The products and offerings will change. They will focus on the experience and safety concerns of customers more than ever.
Malls will become technology-driven, contact minimization, testing, tracking, robots, and whatnot. Malls will reinvent shopping; no street will be able to provide health assurance such as the controlled environment of a mall can. People will be more comfortable and assured about visiting a mall rather than other shopping areas.
Are you ready to reimagine and reinvent your mall or for that matter any other business?
Innovation is the result of the imagination of the future. Steve Sasson at Kodak could imagine the digital photo world, but none bought his vision. Steve Jobs managed to do this well at Apple. Such imagination of the future goes way beyond what is technically feasible today and certainly goes beyond what customers can tell you about their needs. Most customers can never provide you a future vision of what their requirements might be. There is a famous quote from Henry Ford that if he had asked his customers what they needed, he would have ended up developing a better horse cart.
Innovation a lot of time is about imagining and forecasting what the future may look like and preparing for that future. It is an output of a structured process of scenario planning, as was the story above. I used tools to analyze what will likely impact shopping, how the factors will interact, and possible uncertainties associated with them. Using them I came up with imaginary innovations, many of which I believe will be a reality in the near future. The post COVID world requires every business to do similar re-imagination of the world you serve, for you to be relevant.
If you want support on developing scenarios and how you can innovate your business around these future scenarios do write to me.
Krishnan is an innovation consultant and focuses on helping people and organizations innovate and build capabilities for innovation. He brings over 25 years of experience in the industry and consulting. You can reach him by phone / WhatsApp: +919791033967 or email: email@example.com