“Things are looking better for the industry, in general. The recovery of the retail industry is on the right track, and if the economy remains open, the retail sector will bounce back,” Andrew Brien, executive director and CEO of Suria Klcc, told Inside Retail.
Brien said the overall trend in Malaysia is moving towards a lot of positivity with government-imposed movement orders, as everyone is free to roam around and physical restrictions have become a non-issue. All these factors are contributing to the increase of footfall at malls.
Recovery on track
Brien mentioned that office occupancy is rising again, as the majority of the companies are requiring their employees to return to their office space, making working from home a lesser priority.
“For Suria Klcc, sales of fashion items have seen an increase ever since the outbreak. Spendings from shoppers are getting better now. As for the F&B outlets, restaurants and food court, the traffic footfall is close to 90 per cent of pre pandemic levels,” he added.
Industry estimates of the country’s retail growth is expected to rise to 6.3 per cent, and this compares favourably with earlier figures. Earlier retail sales had contracted by 16.3 per cent and 2.3 per cent during 2020 and 2021 respectively.
In the first quarter of 2022, Malaysia’s national economy recorded a better than expected growth rate of five per cent, with average inflation rate at 2.2 per cent and private consumption by 5.5 per cent.
According to Brien, the Malaysian Institute of Economic Research (MIER) consumer sentiment index rose above the 100-point threshold at 108.9 points, so he feels the country’s macroeconomic indicators are better than most countries in the region.
Customers come first
The huge uptake of online e-commerce and accelerated digital transformation hit the Malaysian retail market hard during the pandemic, and businesses like Suria Klcc had their work cut out for them to retain their customers.
“Suria Klcc has maintained its market position by understanding the consumer better than anyone else in the market through our unique mix of research that has built a trackable base of consumer trends over the last 15 years,” Brien noted.
Brien went on to say that this research enabled them to transcend the bricks-and-mortar and digital marketplace to ensure that their customer experience evolved with unique experiences.
This research has been instrumental in maintaining foot traffic not only in Suria Klcc, but also in their other centres: Alamanda Mall in Putrajaya and Mesra Mall in Terengganu.
Physical stores matter
According to Brien, Malaysia has not had the uptake of many other countries in terms of online retail sales.
He acknowledged that many customers moved online out of necessity during the pandemic, but the trend is not remaining the same as more countries move towards the endemic stage of the pandemic.
“This clearly suggests that many consumers are still preferring an in-person shopping experience. Now, more than ever, consumers tend to lean towards companies that provide unique experiences as well as new offerings that fit a range of budgets.”
Moreover, he also noted that consumers are paying greater attention to retailers and companies that champion sustainability, and are willing to pay a premium for more sustainable goods and services.
Brien also revealed that as the nation was coming out of the pandemic towards the end of 2021, the business released their “safe and easy shopping 2.0” video to reassure shoppers that management was taking the utmost care to provide a safe shopping experience.
“The video captures the nostalgia of the good old days whereby the take-out message is simply staying positive and optimistic as well as being there for each other during this unprecedented time,” he stated.
“We are with you“
During the pandemic, Brien also recognised the strain on the mental health of Malaysians and teamed up with the Green Ribbon Group, the Malaysian Mental Health Association, Befrienders KL and Relate to creatively craft messages and normalise conversations surrounding this issue.
“Suria KLCC is the first mall in Malaysia to drive a mental health awareness campaign to such an extent, by not only incorporating the creation of safe spaces for the community, but also actively reaching out and publicising the importance of mental health care.”
In line with this campaign, the mall introduced a fundraising initiative through the sales of the “Suria Ribbon Pin” to members of the public. With the theme “We Are With You”, their mental health awareness campaign will evolve over time.
From a development perspective, the management team has overseen renovation of the Ramlee Mall section of Suria Klcc and it is fully leased at time of opening.
Their “Signatures Food Court” has been refreshed and it provides a modern and spacious feeling. It has expanded food and beverage offerings to maintain its position as the premium fast casual dining experience in the area that boasts a “million dollar view” of the city’s skyline.
Brien believes that although the growth of e-commerce may pose some challenges to shopping mall revenues, the experience of visiting a mall does have its benefits.
“Relishing the larger than life aesthetics, the scent of fresh merchandise, the bling and rustle of decadent fashion, all of this sensory gratification is too strong a force to reckon with and that is why, there will always be visitors to a shopping mall,” he said.
Brien feels it’s totally a different ‘ballgame’ when it comes to luxury products. Customers who shop for premium items usually prefer experiential treatment, and the communication with shop assistants is a major factor in purchasing decisions.
Set to thrill
“My take is, the mall will thrive, no matter how big the online shopping gets as long as we keep understanding the customer,” Brien said.
Bricks-and-mortar stores are not going away anytime soon, and as malls have adapted to the new normal, online retailers have had to open a physical presence to remain relevant.
For the mall, Brien noted that their retail mix is key, with the Generation Z and Millennials audience emerging as a huge target market.
“One thing that brands need to be aware of is their authenticity and ethical stance, this is more important than ever before with this target audience,: he said.
The management is committed to adopting in-depth research both qualitative and quantitative, to continue curating a safe, convenient and differentiated experience for shoppers.
“Knowing that the path to recovery is gradual and unpredictable, the segment remains resolute and determined to rise to the challenges ahead,” he concluded.