“Come to India in the next five years or don’t bother. Opportunity there is, but don’t miss the bus.” The words of BS Nagesh, managing director of Indian department store chain Shopper’s Stop, speaking as part of a panel discussing the next phase of development in Indian retail at the World Retail Congress, summed up the thoughts of all of those who presented.

Bijou Kurien, CEO of Reliance Lifestyle, outlined the challenges facing retailers considering entering the market. He observed that there is a tendency to treat a country with more than 1 billion people as a homogenous entity, when in fact it is composed of many vastly different parts. “There is no one view of India and it cannot be approached from one brand strategy,” he said.

Nagesh agreed, saying that retailers always look at Europe as a collection of different states, but “when you come to India, you see them start with a store in Delhi and then a store in Mumbai and go on from there. When you look at India as one country, most of us end up making a mess,” he said.

Hiro Harjani, chairman of fashion retailer Aftershock, related how he brought his formula to India in 2005, opened several stores and found making a profit close to impossible. “It all looks great from the outside. But when you get into the nitty-gritty, you find things aren’t the same as they are in the West,” he said.

He highlighted rents, trading permits and infrastructure as just a few of the problems that retailers should be aware of in India. “I think India will come out of all of these problems eventually. But it could be 15 years. I am hopeful for the long term,” he said.