Kolkata is slowly and steadily opening herself up to the luxury market. Even a few months back it was difficult to find a Caran d’Ache’s Shiva limited edition pen with a price tag of Rs 7 lakh on the shelves of any shopping mall in Kolkata. Rarely could one find a watch priced at Rs 1.5 lakh. Now things are changing fast: luxury brands are cropping up fast in eastern India’s largest city; and brands like Gucci, Canali, Burberry and Emporio Armani are likely to open their stores soon.
“You have a host of choices here now when it comes to luxury retail in Kolkata. In fact, I was in Palladium Mall in Mumbai a few days back and I found most of the brands are now present in Kolkata,” said an enthusiastic shopper. Even a few years back the concept of a luxury store was not there in Kolkata as retailers found the market more price-sensitive.
The new luxury retail destination in Kolkata - Quest Mall
“But then, unless you are there, you will never know,” felt Sanjeev Mehra, general manager of Quest. Quest is likely to host luxury brands like Paul Smith, Michael Kors, Rolex, Tag Heuer and Breitling. Some like FCUK, Tommy Hilfiger, Vero Moda, Nautica, Guess, Forever New and CK have already opened their shops in the city. For brands like Timberland or Kenneth Cole, which are not easily found on shelves, there is a lot of enthusiasm on the e-commerce sites.
Options galore for shoppers
Even some years back, other than watches, hardly were there any other types of luxury brands in Kolkata. There were ‘trunk shows’ in which a brand like Jimmy Choo would come to a five-star hotel for two-three days, open its suitcases, invite the hoity-toity and sell. The creme de la creme would come, buy and leave.
Actor Rituparna Sengupta takes time out for shopping whenever she is shooting abroad. “When in the US, I prefer to go to GAP, Colors of Benetton or Banana Republic… and of course Marks & Spencer. You will not find good brands in here. Last year, I was in Boston and I got hooked on to Macy’s,” she said. Fond of brands like Zara, Armani and Gucci, Rituparna never had had her “thirst quenched” when she tried to do a bit of shopping in the city.
A snapshot of South City Mall
A growing market
But retailing in Kolkata has started to change of late. For e-commerce site, the Kolkata market is growing faster than other metros. Although Kolkata contributes to 10% of the sales of super-premium retail brands for jabong.com, in comparison to 30% for Delhi, growth in sales is encouraging for the e-commerce site, said Praveen Sinha, co-founder of jabong.com. Ferrero, one of the finest Italian chocolate makers earns 5% of its sales from the city, compared to 20% in Mumbai or Delhi. “Kolkata is still far behind when it comes to luxury but its growing fast and we see a lot potential and aspiration in the city. In fact all of our assortments are available in Kolkata,” a Ferrero spokesperson said.
A busy retail outlet
As far as the other metros go, the stores came up in luxury hotels before they moved to high street locations or malls. It is only in the past five years that malls like UB City in Bengaluru, Palladium in Mumbai and Emporium in Delhi have happened.
Is the city ready yet?
Is Kolkata ready to be bombarded with high-end brands? Luxury retail, often thought of by many as a recession-resistant industry, had to go through peaks and troughs. What does it mean for a city like Kolkata, traditionally branded as a price-sensitive market?
“Perhaps it will take a little bit more time. The mind set in the city has to change before that and there should be a readiness among buyers,” felt actor Rituparna Sengupta. Many like Rituparna prefer to get the latest collections from international locations like the US or from closer home, like Singapore, Thailand and Dubai.
22 Camac Street - a popular shopping address in Kolkata
Manmohan Bagree, vice-president of South City Projects, who thinks the city needs more aspirational brands at this moment, said: “Kolkata market will take some more time to lap up real luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton or Armani. It is true that the aspiration level for high-end brands have increased considerably in the last few years and it is the right time for brands in the premium or bridge-to-luxury segment to make their mark in the city,” he said.
But is Kolkata ready for a few more Mango shops? “Number of buyers could be less in Kolkata which makes the market size small. But the billing size is at par with any other metros in the country. In fact, it is higher than other metros at times,” Saraf said.
“When premium brands like CK, FCUK and M&S came into Kolkata three years ago, people questioned how they would survive. No one does so today,” said Mehera.