In a late night order on Friday, April 24, 2020, the government had allowed opening of shops as part of the easing down of lockdown restrictions announced on April 15 with neighbourhood shops and others being to re-open allowed within the city. Shops were allowed outside the city limits – except those in malls – with 50 per cent workforce while wearing of masks has been made compulsory.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on Saturday issued a clarification saying that only standalone shops have been allowed to open as per the directive and that the order does not apply to COVID-19 containment zones, or liquor stores. The ministry also stated that sales by ecommerce companies will continue to be restricted to essential goods only.
No shops have been allowed to open in multi-brand or single brand malls, the order had further said.
Shopping centres, which are already reeling under the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – including the pressure of repayments to banks, even as revenue streams dry up – were extremely disappointed seeing that no relief seems to be coming from the government.
The Indian Shopping Centre Industry is now struck with several banks writing to mall owners directing them to deposit payments for the month of April in Escrow accounts against lease rental discounting facility availed by the industry players.
Shopping Centre Association of India (SCAI) believes that this is just the beginning and other banks are likely to follow suit which will put the shopping centre industry in great financial distress, impact more than 50 percent malls across the country and lead to loss of lakhs of jobs.
SCAI is of the firm opinion that in this unprecedented situation, the best bet for the government should be to re-open malls, since they are professionally run and can control factors like hygiene and social distancing better than local markets, neighbourhood shops and kirana stores.
2-Phase Strategy for Re-Opening of Shopping Centres
Continuing its own efforts to help the sector tide over this period and find workable solutions for the industry, SCAI has created comprehensive SOPs for the reopening of Malls in the country.
The SOPs were prepared by SCAI after several consultations with the captains of the Industry as well as adopted global best practices to ensure that the spread Covid-19 is contained. SCAI is also keen to work together with the Government in putting a formal structure in place to ensure that these SOPs are followed in letter and spirit and the roll out across the states is efficient.
SCAI laid out a three phase plan and SOPs to re-open malls, which it has shared with the Government of India. It has said that malls will open as follows:
Phase 1: Malls will be operational from 12 PM to 9 PM on all days initially and only 1 customer per 75 sq.ft. GLA will be allowed. Only 50 percent of the staff will be inside malls in this first phase. Malls will offer only essential services and products in the first phase of opening, eg:
– Supermarket
– Infant clothing
– Eyewear
– Electronics required for work from home
– Apparel, sportswear & footwear
– Personal care
– Takeaway and home delivery from food courts and restaurants
– Salons & Spas – with 50 percent capacity and prior appointments only.
– Home and furnishing
Phase 2: Malls will open food courts and F&B outlets and Multiplexes, Family Entertainment Centers will become operational
Shopping centres will ensure that:
– All personnel are educated on COVID-19 health and prevention
– They maintain occupancy ceiling to approximately 50 percent of common areas and GLAs
– In case of dine in, all F&B outlets to reduce seating arrangements to 50 percent and maintain placing seating and tables 5 feet apart for all customers to ensure social distancing
– Stores to also ensure social distancing at all times
– Installation of plexiglass at all checkout points
– Encouraging contactless menus and digital invoices
– Restricted parking with use of only 50% of total parking capacity
– Provision of touchless cash points
– Restricted washroom usage policy – Controlled number of customers to be allowed in washrooms as per the size and only alternate urinals to be used. Also, Exhausts in toilets will run for 24 hours
– No promotional activities of any sorts in shopping centre common areas
– The air conditioning in all malls will be tweaked to ensure at least 30 percent of fresh air circulations of treated air and temperatures will be maintained between 24-30 degree centigrade. Return air in all common area units will be cleaned on weekly basis.
Most importantly, all shopping centres will have mandatory isolation rooms – a small dedicated area on site to isolate potential positive cases.
Aside from this, their retail partners will ensure that:
– They provide sensor-based sanitization points at the entrance of the store, cash counter and various other touchpoints within store.
– Promote smart payments as preferred method, encourage digital payment transactions for customer convenience.
– QSRs in food courts to do distance marking for consumers, separate cash and service windows with installation of plexisheets to minimize physical contact and ensure social distancing.
– Training & education to staff on maintaining personal health safety & premise hygiene.
Future Plans Amid the Pandemic
Most malls say that they have already put an action plan into place for when they get permission to re-open their centres. Industry captains spoke to Indiaretailing Bureau on the plans that they have made to ensure consumer safety and consumer confidence:

1. Shibu Philips, Business Head, LuLu Mall

Mall & Store Sanitization: The entire mall is being sanitized and we are using mist operating machines to ensure complete sanitization of the whole property. We are ensuring all the air conditioning filters are changed before the opening of the mall. All the retail stores have been asked to open, clean and get sanitized. All the F&B stores have been asked to get their pest control treatment done to ensure that all their places are sanitized and are in accordance with the new FSSAI guidelines issued by the government.
Staff Health & Records: We are taking into note the location of all the staff – retail staff, our staff and contractual staff, so that we do not have any staff coming from hotspots. We will be only allowing staff staying in green and orange zones to join the work and as per government directives, we will only be allowing only 50 percent staff to come in one shift. For retail staff, there will be a team which will be visiting the stores many times a day to note their temperature multiple times.
Designated Delivery & Loading Areas: We are creating sanitization points at the loading area, so that goods which are coming in can be sanitized.
Parking Lots: We will ensure that all the vehicles that enter the mall, their wheels should be sanitized. The cars will be crossing a pool of sanitized water before entering into the basement.
Masks & Gloves for Staff & Consumers: We will also be making sure that at the entrance all the retail staff and consumers are wearing masks and apart from this we will also be taking a note of their temperature. Names and numbers of consumers will be noted in each and every store they will be entering. In stores – especially hypermarkets – customers are given gloves to wear, so that they don’t touch anything even with sanitized hands. We are also limiting the number of people coming in. We are allowing only two people per car to enter the mall.
Norms for F&B: For F&B, we are getting distancing zones created beforehand so that customers can stand in boxes when they place orders. We have requested all F&B players to maintain a one meter gap and realign all tables. In the food court too, we are realigning the tables in such a way that there is an adequate gap between them. We are trying to create a system in the food court, where consumers do not have to go to the counters to place the order and instead they can place the orders through a QR code as all the menus will be available to them on their phones. Once the consumer will scan the QR code and enter his/ her mobile number, they will get all the menus on their Whatsapp and they can choose what they want to order. Consumers will get the receipts on their phones and orders will go to the kitchen and when the order will be ready, the consumer will have the choice either to pick it up or it will be delivered to him/her at the table.
Shopping Through QR Codes: We are in the process of creating a system, where customers can shop through QR code. Once they scan the QR code they will get to know what items are there in the shops. After placing the order, customers can pick it up from the digilocker in the basement lobby, again, either the customer can pick it up from there or we will deliver it in the car.
No Trial Rooms for Fashion Retailers: We are asking fashion retailers to stop customers from using their trial rooms and allow returns if only there is a defect in the garment. We are trying to make shopping as contactless as possible.

2. Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Shopping Malls

“The entire world is facing an unprecedented situation and many micro and macro consumer trends will change once the lockdown is lifted. How we behave with our consumers will be impacted forever – hygiene, awareness, consideration, selflessness, empathy, and the importance of staying healthy and those around us are now critical for all of us. It is important for us to understand the sentiments and offer a safe and secure retail experience to them.
There is no question that the ramifications of this new normal will persist and re-shape retail going forward. What matters most now is to reflect on these changes and plan ahead – so that we can all make a successful comeback. And when we do so, we will continue to rebuild and curate engaging experiences for consumers,” says Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Shopping Malls.
Contactless Shopping: Both shopping and serving experiences will become contactless, the New Normal.
Mall & Store Sanitization: Rigorous sanitization and social distancing measures
Digital Payments: We will focus on these more as opposed to cash transactions
Staff Health & Records: There will be a higher control on the health of staff entering mall. Guests will also be checked for temperature for a long period of time.

3. Pankaj Renjhen, Chief Operating officer, Virtuous Retail

According to Pankaj Renjhen, Chief Operating officer, Virtuous Retail, “We have an action plan in place before and after re-opening of malls. Before opening the malls, there will be a complete sanitization process conducted. We will be briefing housekeeping teams and manpower which works in the centres on precautions that are needed to be taken for COVID-19 health and prevention. We will be streamlining manpower to ensure that they are well-trained and follow social distancing rigorously.”
SOPs for Retailers: Even though retail brands have their own SOPs, we will still give them our own, which include the points that all customer touchpoint areas need to be sanitized meticulously and social distancing has to be maintained.
Handling Pressure Zones: For pressure zones like escalators and lifts, there is a scheduled plan being drawn up on how frequently they need to be cleaned. We are limiting the number of people using escalators and elevators at one time. Only one security guard will be allowed to touch buttons in elevators. We will also guarantee that trolleys in the hypermarkets are cleaned after every customer uses it.
Designated Delivery Points: There will be designated delivery points for store products. Products can only come up till this point and beyond that, store staff need to collect them. This is to ensure that there is as little outside interface as possible.
Staff Health & Records: All staff – ours or our retail partners – will be screened for temperature every morning and a sanitization process will be conducted before they enter the premises. Aside from this, we will be maintaining a full record of our employees as well retail partner employees – records for example where they were 15 days prior to the opening of the mall – and we will continue doing this for the next couple of months.
Social Media Plan: We will have a very active engagement plan on social media of all the sanitization and safety measures in order to regain customer confidence and assure them that this is a safe environment. Along with this, we will also be running a customer awareness campaign in our centre wherein we will talk about all the hygiene measures we are undertaking.
Norms for F&B: We will ensure that all the F&B outlets and food courts follow necessary government norms like maintaining distance between tables and the capacity that needs to be served. We already have a contactless payment system through our own app at the food court and will rope in all F&B partners on this.
Social Distancing in Multiplexes: We will be ensuring that multiplexes also follow the necessary social distancing norms.
Discontinuation of Touchpoints: We might discontinue some services where there are more touchpoints with the customers, like valet parking.
Parking Lots: In parking lots we plan to ensure that vehicles – four-wheelers or two-wheelers – are parked at a certain distance from the each other. Also, there will be restricted entry and exit points.

4. Anuj Kejriwal, MD & CEO – ANAROCK Retail

Social Distancing: The retail sector has been one of the worst-hit sectors due to COVID-19. Malls have suffered a big blow as even after they reopen, social distancing will need to be the new normal for a long period. Initially, people may avoid going to crowded places such as malls and possibly also reduce discretionary spending or even delay spending for a while. Those who would spend may prefer stand-alone retail stores where there is a perception of safety (in terms of sanitation, cleanliness, lesser crowds, etc.).
Reinvention of Shopping Centres: Malls will have to completely reinvent themselves, in some cases from the ground up, to make shoppers feel safe as well as attracted. We know that Indian retail stakeholders are nothing if not versatile and agile, so I have every confidence that they will rise to the challenge. The Indian shopping spirit is equally about shopping and an experience. Malls can focus on delivering a superior and safe experience and thereby convince customers. The main focus after delivering the requisite experience will be social distancing, and advanced, extremely visible sanitation measures norms. These will be a shared responsibility between mall owners and retailers. Inputs we are getting from all from stakeholders indicate that every effort will be made to achieve these objectives
Future Developments: Future mall developments will put a greater emphasis on open, naturally ventilated spaces. Even in existing malls, there will be considerable effort put into creating more of such areas.

5. Mukesh Kumar, Chief Executive Officer, Infiniti Malls

Educating the Staff: The mall will maintain occupancy ceiling to approximately 50 percent of common areas and GLAs. Stores to also ensure social distancing at all times and we are also educating all personnel on COVID-19 health and prevention.
F&B Norms: In case of dine in, all F&B outlets to reduce seating arrangements to 50 percent and maintain placing seating and tables 5 feet apart for all customers to ensure social distancing. Plexiglass will be installed at all checkout points and we are encouraging contactless menus and digital invoices
Parking Lots: Restricted parking with use of only 50 percent of total parking capacity as well as provision of touchless cash points.
Washroom Policy: There will be a restricted washroom usage policy with only a limited number of customers allowed inside and only alternate urinals to be used.
No Promotional Activities: There will be no events or activities of any sorts in shopping centre common areas.

6. Rahul Saraf, Managing Director, Forum Group

“We are still in the process of finalising an internal SOP that ensures safety of the staff working within the mall as well as the customers that visit us once we open. We think the earliest shopping malls maybe allowed to open would be post-June 30, 2020.”

7. Shrirang Sarda, Director, City Centre Mall Nashik Pvt. Ltd

“We have been fumigating the shopping mall on a regular basis. Apart from that, we will be taking all the security measures and necessary preparations, mentioned in the SOP suggested by SCAI.
~ With Inputs from Charu Lamba, Sandeep Kumar & Surabhi Khosla ~