The Shopping Centre industry all over the world is a catalyst of organised retail and a major contributor to the success of major drivers of the economy including Entertainment, Fashion, Cinema, F&B, Electronics, FMCG, and many more.
The onset of COVID-19 has brought about a significant change across sectors, a complete transformation in the way everyone operates their businesses. The pandemic has impacted the shopping centre and retail industry significantly too. Till the time the risk levels of the virus reduce or get eliminated, the shopping experience too would continue to be a changed one. For this, both retailers and shopping centres, are consciously and continuously working towards ensuring that they provide a safe and secure shopping environment.
Creating a Safe Shopping Environment
“As retail starts to open slowly, we believe that shopping centres could play an important role in creating a good safe shopping environment since it is a controlled space. While we have been closed, we have made all arrangements to make sure that Growel’s 1O1 is a 100 percent safe-place to shop, dine and spend quality time,” says Sachin Dhanawade, Chief Operating Officer (COO), Retail & Real Estate, Grauer & Weil (India) Limited, which operates Growel’s 1O1 Mall.
Shopping centres across India are undertaking measures complying with the standard operating procedures (SOPs) detailed by the Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI).
“As a responsible public space, Select CityWALK has implemented stringent measures keeping the safety aspect of shoppers across not just its premises, but also the retail outlets, restaurants and food court,” states Nimish Arora, Director & CEO, Select CityWALK.
Getting attuned to the new normal, consumers are willing to step outside and be at public spaces where they feel safe, thus changing the shopping experience where earlier one did not think before entering a mall or public space.
“Earlier people used to take appointments to visit salons inside shopping centres, now, they are scheduling their visits to shopping centres. Unlike pre-COVID-19 days, there are certain new norms in place, for example limited number of outfits are allowed for trials, which was never the case earlier. Moreover, people are practising additional layer of self-discipline, which by now they have got familiarised with. This translates that the shoppers are having a varied experience while entering the mall as an additional layer of security check is getting introduced which includes temperature and oxygen level checks and only those categorised ‘Green’ on Aarogya Setu app are allowed entry. Also, as part of the new normal, using masks and sanitizers dispensed through a touchless mechanism is being made mandatory. Besides, children aged up to 10 years and senior citizens above 60 years are asked not to visit the shopping centres,” explains Manoj K. Agarwal, Chief Executive Officer, Viviana Mall.
“The lockdown has changed the market and we are observing new patterns of consumer behavior. Essential time is replacing leisure time at malls. The dwell time has decreased majorly because multiplexes and gaming zones are not operational. Customers are coming to the mall for purpose driven shopping. Categories like electronics, cosmetics and skincare are contributing significantly,” adds Rajneesh Mahajan, CEO, Inorbit Malls.
Elaborating on the same lines, Faisal Khan, GM- Mall Operations, Mahagun Metro Mall says, “At present, brands have plenty of time to cater to every shopper which is resulting into a high conversion rate. Also, the increase in footfall regularly is giving us hope of better days to come.”
Consumption & Phygital Trends
In the new normal, time spent outside has reduced drastically. Human contact has become sparse. Shopping centres understood this and accepted the challenge of providing a safe shopping experience to consumers. Malls having larger common areas can more easily implement social distancing; work on a pre-defined SOPs and ensure its execution.
“Today consumers have to undergo a number of safety checks before stepping into a shopping centre. This has become a new normal. Individual retail stores have their own set of safety measures as well. No trial room policy for many brands is reinforcing the need for virtual trial rooms. In an organised retail environment, systems and processes are always better defined and implemented, thus opening opportunities for contactless shopping,” says Shibu Philips, Business Head, Lulu Mall.
Consumption trends and what’s been consumed has also seen a drastic change in the last 4 months. The focus had been towards essentials in the initial phase of lockdown and this gradually matured to a need base, utility base and function base consumption trend. The new normal as we have heard from almost everywhere, has truly changed the way consumers buy or consume things.
“To match the evolving needs of consumers, we have embarked on a journey that is largely phygital – Physical and Digital, with Creaticity online that we are launching soon. The platform will have an option to buy national and global brands online while there is a strong connect to give a physical touch and feel through virtual experiences and also large campus to offer actual touch and feel in a completely sanitized environment,” shares Mahesh. M, CEO, Creaticity.
“The shift in shopping experience would see the adoption of more phygital automation. We at Pacific were already quite equipped with such facilities before COVID, our regular visitors were very positive in their feedbacks to these automation. Responsible shopping will become a new game; shift will gradually happen from essentials to other items with the offices reopening and lesser restrictions in Unlock phases,” says Abhishek Bansal, Executive Director, Pacific Group.
“Going forward, we also see technology playing a more vital and immersive role than before in enhancing the shopping experience at the Mall,” adds Anuj Arora, General Manager, Oberoi Mall.
Redefining Shopping Experience
Adaptation is the key and malls are equipping themselves to create newer, better shopping experiences in limited time.
“One of the key in ensuring physical distancing within the mall is allowing limited numbers. We have worked on a plan to limit the flow of visitors. Having less number of visitors would also mean increased per shopper servicing time by the retail staff to assist them with the product or service they would like to opt for. This will be a major plus for the brands to explain the features of any product at length.
“Safety and convenience continues to remain the core area, for this we have put up unidirectional floor markers in mall’s common areas to aid crowd movement. There are crossover points at regular intervals as well for people to take a U-turn. This is similar to a highway, where traffic discipline is essential to avoid mishaps,” says Manoj K Agarwal.
Speaking more on the same, Nimish Arora says, “Post re-opening, as a public space we are striving to create a warm, open atmosphere that welcomes the shoppers back and for the same tweaks in design and markings across the premises have been done to help shoppers and retail outlets maintain the necessary social distancing of required 6 feet as per government norms. Markings for social distancing are present on escalators; whereas elevators operate on a limited capacity, with a maximum of 4 people to an elevator. The same is enforced in retail outlets and F&B areas. Markings in each store are placed to ensure social distancing norms. These measures are also followed at the food court, while ensuring a reduced seating space. There are proper marking at counters and cash registers to stop crowding, plexiglass shields at all checkout points and we also have a special self-isolation room, in case of suspected positive cases.”
“There are safety signages placed at all important touchpoints in the mall, educating the customer of OVID do’s and don’ts. There are announcements made in the mall at regular intervals informing customers to maintain social distancing, wear masks, sanitize their hands etc. On the floors there are ‘social distancing marshals’ who are constantly monitoring customers safety. There is a safety kiosk at the mall where customers can purchase masks and other safety items. To encourage shopping, Inorbit along with their retail partners are ensuring products are made available to customers via WhatsApp, email and even video calls; allowing customers to place order sitting at home and having the product delivered at their doorstep. The malls have invited lifestyle bloggers to promote retailer products and offers running at the mall,” explains Rajneesh Mahajan.
“There is a COVID Marshal deputed at every floor of the mall to monitor the shoppers and help them follow the norms. We have adequate signages at all the places. We allow only 4 people to enter the lift at a time and use of escalators is encouraged. Entry of people wearing masks is only allowed and Marshal makes sure that shoppers are wearing it all the time. We hope to see increase in footfall for the coming months,” says Manoj Gaur, MD, Gaurs Group.
“To ensure proper implementation of technical SOPs, we made video tutorials for retailers, staff and outsourced staff. Disposable gloves are being provided by LuLu Hypermarket and several other retail stores. In the food court, we have introduced contactless dining where customers simply need to scan a QR code, order and pay and collect their food contact free. LuLu Hypermarket has been providing express delivery for everything from grocery to and electronics to even elaborate festive food. Our loyal customers have been provided with a hotline number where they can speak to our customer executive and get access to any service or product in the mall on priority basis or clear any query related to the mall. Several retailers are ensuring their products are accessible online and the mall is treated as the collection point,” adds Shibu Philips.
Pacific Group has introduced Shop from Home, Free Home Delivery, Back to Shopping Offers, WhatsApp Video Shopping, and Exclusive Block and Shop like services to give the customers a sense of safety and exclusivity.
“Block and Shop allows the customer to pre-book a slot for themselves and shop exclusively in that store. Mall authorities have made retailers and other management personnel aware of keeping a check on guidelines being followed,” explains Abhishek Bansal.
“Cherry picking the best safety solutions available in the market today, we have ensured that there is minimum disruption and interference in the customer experience. We are implementing measures such as fumigation and deep cleaning of HVAC on a regular basis, increased intake of fresh air and regular sanitization of washrooms to further enhance consumer confidence,” adds Anuj Arora.
New Services Introduced
Everyone is adjusting with the new normal. Post the unlock phase, people have started visiting places which are open, and they feel safe in. To reassure their trust in shopping centres, the owners have introduced many new services.
“We possibly would be the only mall to have mandatory oximeter test at the entrances. At the basement level, each vehicle entering the mall is disinfected as they pass through a UV misting installation that has been set up especially for this purpose. Our water fountains have temporarily been closed and instead we would be selling nominally priced packaged water alternatives,” states Manoj K Agarwal.
“To enhance the entire relationship and engagement of our visitors, we have also incorporated personal shopping, curbside pick-up and home deliveries for convenience. The direct customer services through WhatsApp ordering will surely bring in the new wave of shopping experience for customers. We also plan to introduce digital catalogues for brands to make the process smoother and seamless,” adds Nimish Arora.
“Kerala has a considerable senior citizen population, several of them live alone and have to fend for themselves. So the entry ban has seriously affected them. Hence, we created a ‘Silver citizen lounge’ just at the entrances, where without entering the mall, they can handover their shopping lists to our customer service executives and we would deliver the products to them at the lounge or place it in their respective vehicles,” says Shibu Philips.
“We have introduced an app/ QR Code solution through which customers can pre book a visit to mall and also place order at food court which is contactless and easy to use. Besides regular protocols we are trying to bring in different entertainment for our guests like drive in theatre in our parking lot, musical evening through our digital screens in foodcourt and in atrium, etc,” says Mukesh Kumar, CEO, Infiniti Mall.
“We have implemented a host of new services and technologies to make the entire shopping experience as contact less as possible giving customer safety and convenience the utmost importance. We have introduced a simple yet effective scan and pay facility at our parking to avoid exchange of cash. For our internal customers, our retail partners, we have introduced an app where all approvals and material movement scheduling can happen on an interactive paper-less platform, not warranting any frequent face to face interactions, calls, meetings or follow ups, thereby improving operational efficiencies and giving them more time to focus on enhancing customer experience.” adds Anuj Arora.
Rising Awareness Among Consumers
Customers have also become self-cautious and are visiting the shopping centres only if they have a specific purchase to make. The presence of children has visibly reduced in malls as families are avoiding bringing their young ones to crowded areas and risk exposing them to the virus. They are using personal vehicles to commute to the mall instead of opting for cabs. At present, the quantum of transactions are small, however the conversion rates are higher.
Explaining this, Shibu Philips says, “Consumers no longer leisurely spend their time in the mall. All shopping is planned, and several consumers are being extra cautious and wear their own gloves and even face shields. They carry their own sanitizers and are mindful of the precautions taken by the mall. Customers are taking an effort to appreciate our efforts, which is evident in the footfall numbers.”
“We have seen some of the visitors willingly refuse paper bags and packaging material, instead using their bags to carry the shopping material. Digital payments are only practised at all food outlets and stores, we hardly see any customer paying in cash to avoid contact,” adds Manoj Gaur.
Consumers are also maintaining social distancing, avoiding high contact areas as the new way of life and they are keenly observing and following the safety measures implemented by shopping centres for their protection.
“Consumers are themselves really cautious, we have seen a shift in their behaviour of not using common area benches for sitting, and escalators have been used more than elevators to avoid standing close to others,” states Abhishek Bansal.
Everyone understands that they have to remain diligent and vigilant at a personal level and are appreciative of all the measures being put in place by shopping centres in helping them achieve goal,” concludes Anuj Arora.