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THE ECONOMIC TIMES 17 MAR, 2013, 05.

37AM IST, S SANANDAKUMAR,ET BUREAU

Lulu Mall in Kochi: How Kerala became shoppers' paradise


The Lulu Mall, which opened earlier this week in Kochi, is a shopper's delight. Spanning a little over 2.5 million sq ft and built at a cost of Rs 1,600 crore, it can accommodate nearly 300 national and international brands. The man behind what is billed as the largest mall in India, MA Yusuffali, the promoter of Abu Dhabi-based retail powerhouse EMKE Group, is a Malayali. That still doesn't explain why he would open a mall and a giant one at that in Kerala. Malayalis, until recently, largely binged on one object: gold. Kerala has as many jewellery shops as it has coconut trees. Well, not really, but you get the idea. Today, the shopping list of people in the state is assorted luxury cars, high-end electronic goods, durables, textile, and clothes and the like and they are shopping as if there is no tomorrow. Shoppers Don't Stop In no time, the binge alerted retailers. The first signs of their interest were 'supermarkets' such as IT super shops, white goods retail chains and gold souks. Then came the malls. Nearly 50 malls are said to be built in the state in three years. Last week, the state government announced the launch of agri-malls in all districts. At least three districts would have fisheries malls. The launch of Lulu Mall will only hasten the trend. In Lulu's case, though these are early days, consumer response has been "overwhelming", according to ShibuPhilips, business head of Lulu Mall. The mall is attracting footfalls of around 1 lakh even during working days, he says. Established players in retail are not unduly worried. "Several malls are already operating in the state. But our business grew by 20% last year," says PP Jose, chief operating officer of jewellery chain Joyalukkas Group. Unsurprisingly, leading jewellers are present in most malls. Yet, they are just as focused on standalone stores. Joyalukkas Group, for instance, has said it will launch mid-size malls in district headquarters under the brand 'Mall of Joy'. In jewellery, says Jose, the bulk of the demand comes from families shopping for weddings. "They want privacy and are more comfortable in an exclusive, standalone shop." The competition is also driving innovations. White goods retailer LanMark Shops introduced a cluster approach in retailing, after it was unable to compete with big players. "We have organised 200 smaller players under one brand name called White Mart," says Jerry Mathew, managing director at LanMark Shops. Buoyed by the success in Kerala, the company has expanded into Tamil Nadu. It is not hard to understand Kerala's shopping frenzy. Despite the relative industrial backwardness, the state's per capita consumption expenditure is one of the highest in the country thanks to remittances largely from West Asia of nearly Rs 50,000 crore a year. Kerala is also home to cash crops like rubber, pepper, cardamom etc. If that's not enough, there are easy loans estimated to be over Rs 1 lakh crore provided by gold loan companies such as Muthoot FinanceBSE 0.22 %, Manappuram FinanceBSE 0.29 % and MuthootFincorpBSE -0.61 %.