The sixth #SCAIMondays virtual roundtable series, conducted on June 1, focused on how footfalls and shopper movements could be managed inside shopping centres since they have now been given a green signal from the Government of India to re-open their premises outside of containment zones on June 8. For mall developers, hygiene, security, and safety measures have become – and will continue to remain – the biggest challenge in the new normal.
The discussion also touched upon the Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) Guidelines for shopping centres to operate in the COVID-19 era.
The panel was moderated by Najeeb Kunil, ED, Pioneer Property Zone Services. The other panelists included:
– Aslam Packeer Mohamed, MD, Marina Mall, Chennai
– Harsh Vardhan Bansal, Director, Vegas Mall & Unity Group, Delhi
– Shrirang Sarda, CEO & Managing Partner, Sarda Group, Nashik
– Sushil Mohta, Chairman, Merlin Group
Amitabh Taneja, Chairman & Founder Director, SCAI who was hosting the webinar, opened the session by welcoming the Government’s decision to re-open malls which were not in containment zone in India. “The agenda of the session is ‘Safety-First Consumer Service’. The discussion intends to elaborate on the SCAI guidelines and SOPs for shopping centres to start the re-functioning on in the days to come. We are on the verge of re-opening malls and this week is the only time left for malls for preparations and to take necessary safety measures. The responsibility of the industry is immense, and we have to be very watchful in our approach and have to ensure consumer safety and customer experience so that people can come out of their homes to shop with confidence.”
Consumer Safety & Service
Najeeb Kunil, ED, Pioneer Property Zone Services elaborated on the SCAI guidelines and asked panelists how they were implementing SOPs in their respective shopping centres, given that there was very little time left to experiment and innovate.
“We have been under lockdown for over two months now, so I am confident that people will come out to shop in large numbers after this huge gap. Therefore, it is extremely important to ensure the safety of consumers by taking all precautionary measures related to social distancing, crowd management, disinfecting the malls, signage etc. We have a very skilled team and they are working extremely hard to implement all these measures in time for the re-opening,” Sushil Mohta, Chairman, Merlin Group explained.
“While the mall be will be ensuring the safety of visitors along with employees, I want to add that this pandemic has the same threat for everyone and therefore every individual should safeguard himself as well and should follow the guidelines and inculcate them as habit. There should be a mental awareness and alertness and people should follow the Do’s and Don’ts,” he added.
Mohta said that there were many ways in which malls can spread awareness:
Social Media: Social media is the best platform for creating and spreading awareness. It is the only place where shoppers have been very active since the lockdown was imposed and hence creating a campaign on this platform will reach a wider audience.
Unique Campaigns: Malls should work towards creating unique campaigns on the online platforms which will work towards boosting consumer confidence and helping them understand that shopping centres are safe havens.
Staff Training: Educating and training the staff on the dangers of COVID-19, how it spreads and how it can be curbed is extremely important – especially the security and house cleaning staff. They must understand how to protect themselves and only then will they be able to protect and help visitors in the mall.
“We want to provide consumers with a minimal touch experience and hence we will need to inform them of certain things – like for instance, they must avoid using big shopping bags. We are also marking areas where things which they may need in a mall are easily available to them, in a hygienic manner,” added Mohta.
Security & Hygiene Measures
Speaking on the significance of security and hygiene, Harsh Vardhan Bansal, Director, Vegas Mall & Unity Group, Delhi said, “Shopping malls today are social places where people celebrate their day-to-day life. Therefore, as mall developers, it is our responsibility to ensure safety for the people coming here. I think using technology and the right methodology, we can implement more accurate measures for visitors.”
He said that Vegas Mall has divided the malls into three parts on safety parameters.
“In the first category, we have four types of people visiting the mall. Mall staff, outsourced staff (housekeeping), retailers’ staff and the visitors, and all four of them are very important to us. We plan to open the mall one hour before the public timing for the staff, where they will be screened thermally and will have to undergo a mandatory health checkup before joining the duty. Fit and healthy staff will be provided with a green band, which will make the consumer also feel safe and comfortable. For visitors, wearing masks and having the Aarogya Setu app on their phones is mandatory,” Bansal said.
“As far as place is concerned, we have divided the entire staff into three levels. First level staff will have the direct contact with visitors, so they will be wearing Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) kits. The second layer will be ‘serving with some distance’, and will be wearing face kits, masks and gloves. The third level staff which will be not coming into the contact with visitors and will only be wearing masks,” he explained.
Shrirang Sarda, CEO & Managing Partner, Sarda Group said, “Identifying and plotting the journey of every stakeholder present in the mall is another very important aspect. Every person is a vector for virus and therefore everyone must be protected in all cases. COVID-19 will be around for a while. It’s not a one-two month phenomena. We will have to be equipped as effectively as we can and that for a full-time basis. Therefore, behavioural and technological change is a must as it will be helpful in the long run.”
Costing & Other Concerns
Implementing so many safety measures on regular basis will be a huge challenge for mall developers as it will require large amounts of money and manpower.
Talking about this, Aslam Packeer Mohamed, MD, Marina Mall said, “There is a good amount of cost related to this COVID-19 situation. For the mall owners, the capital expenditure (CAPEX) will definitely increase. Everyone will be doing a cost-benefit analysis and will be spending according to this and also the recovery basis will be kept in mind considering all the stakeholders involved. As far as operational expenditure (OPEX)is concerned, sanitization will play a big role in it. Most of it will become part of the new norm. With a limited number of persons in the mall, there will be limited but quality business.”
“One thing is for sure that we will have more OPEX cost and our manpower demand will increase. We will have to execute more housekeeping teams to manage crowds,” said Mohta.
Kunil added, “The cost can be controlled in the opening stage and there are malls and retailers who are talking about opening in one shift. This would reduce the cost to a great extent.”
Managing crowds in shopping malls will be another challenge, as there are strict guidelines from the Government to not break social distancing norms.
“By maintaining the basic standards, we can control crowds. Zoning and QR codes can help us in limiting crowd movement in the mall,” said Bansal.
“Crowd management rule is a blessing in disguise in this situation. Technology will play a big role in crowd management as well, with the camera system leading from the front. It will help in monitoring and managing the headcounts of people coming in and going out. Protocol has to be maintained as far as entry and exits are concerned,” said Mohta.
“In the coming month, we will have enough experience and knowledge on handling shoppers in malls with these new norms. We will be witnessing a new shopping behaviour and will have to readjust and realign our SOPs and systems accordingly. The crisis will throw lots of opportunities and we will be witnessing the next level of management with both technology and human intervention being a part of it,” he further stated.
Mall Apps are the Future
Nashik City Centre Mall recently designed a new app by which they can inculcate social distancing among the visitors present in the mall in a more organised way.
“Social distancing in the mall is actually a task. No one can actually figure out the movement of the consumer on the floor. To check that, we logically have defined areas in the mall, be it washroom, store, lift or passage, and with the help of Bluetooth sensors or QR code readers, people will have to either passively or actively scan before entering or exiting any particular area. The app generates a heatmap for every area and the logical extension of this that there will be red or green sides of the process. For example, if there are already three or four shoppers in a store or space, and the fifth one is trying to enter, the app will notify ‘red’ so that he/she cannot enter and has to wait till the light turns green. We intend to assure that someone can book a time slot to enter the mall from the same app. As we book tickets for cinemas, we can book a visit to the mall. It will also help us in regulating and showing them the alternate calendar available for the visiting slot. The same app can be extended for contactless payment, parking and so on. The idea is to provide a digital interface along with the physical interface to the consumers. Everyone can use it, including the staff, retailers, security, housekeeping and customer,” Sarda concluded.