It has been around 6 months that the first COVID-19 case came to light in India and since then the virus has been spreading, exacting not just humanitarian costs, but also the economic costs, affecting every single sector in the country. The situation has been extremely challenging for the shopping centre industry which was forced to shut down for more than 70 days.
After more than two months of lockdown, some shopping malls in the country were allowed to reopen on June 8, 2020 and they did so, embracing the new normal. In fact, malls in some parts of the country are still waiting for a green signal to open their doors to customers. The current situation has caused a huge dent in retail trade, the immediate effects of which are huge losses of revenues and jobs. The situation will also have a cascading and devastating effect on the economy. Data from SCAI (Shopping Centres Association of India) indicates that there are 650 large shopping centres that contribute over Rs 180,000 crore in sales with 1,000 plus smaller shopping centres contributing another Rs 50,000 crore to the sales of the organised retail sector.
With the reopening, malls are gearing up to follow all SOPs (Standard Operating Procedure) laid down by the Government of India as well as SCAI so as to keep the shopping space safe inorder to ensure customer and employee health safety. In the meanwhile, an old debate has been reignited – which is the more safe and secure space to shop: malls or high-street stores?
Safety, Hygiene & Technology
Safety, hygiene and the wellbeing of customers are the first priority of shopping malls in the new normal. All measures are followed to keep both patrons and employees safe and malls are going that extra mile to assure and convince consumers that the mall is a safe place to shop. A large part of this activity involves relooking at traditional ways of doing things and changing daily functions to stay safe from COVID-19.
For example, to reduce the risk of spread in elevators, a new innovative concept has been introduced by many malls – Foot Pedals. Customers can choose the fl oor they want to go to with their feet instead of using their hands and touching an elevator pad which is touched by scores of people daily.
Another innovative measure which helps to prevent the spread of virus is the introduction of Face Bot. This machine detects the customer’s face and scans his/her temperature without any contact. This technology also denies entry to pedestrians whose temperature is above 37.5 degree celsius as well as to those who are not wearing face masks.
The Road Ahead
The road ahead will be rough for all. We all are learning to live with COVID-19 embracing the new normal and building the shopper’s confidence back in these times will be one of the toughest as well as most important tasks that malls do in the coming days.
Mall visitors will be wary, but they still have needs. Every mall will have to provide consumers with the reassurance and safety measures they are looking for in the new COVID world. Creating a safe environment which consumers are confident of as well as adhering to all SOPs will be essential to entice the consumer to come to a mall.
Malls vs High Streets
Currently, the government is undertaking strict measures to curtail the spread of the virus. Given the extraordinary circumstances, shopping malls are best suited to implement strict protocols to control crowds and in making sure social distancing norms are followed to provide a safe, hygienic physical shopping space to shoppers. They are a well-managed and organised environment, unlike high streets and hence the ability of malls to enforce protocols is far more efficient than that of high streets.
Also, malls and their retailer tenants work together to ensure
safety of shoppers, with retailers abiding by all rules and best practices, providing patrons with the convenience and safety of a contactless shopping experience, virtual trial rooms, and fewer and far apart tables, virtual menus and UV sanitized cutlery in fine dine restaurants.
Some other reasons that malls are safer than high streets are:
– Proper SOPs strictly followed by visitors, mall staff and retail staff
– Screening of all visitors and staff for temperature as well as face masks
– Distance markers installed across mall
– Regular sanitization of customer touchpoints and fumigation
– Limiting the number of people entering the mall
– Closure of fitting rooms and removal of demo area
– Emergency rooms for isolation of suspected cases
– Restricted restroom policy
– Controlled use of parking space
Government Support & Financial Relief
The organised retail industry has been in distress since the unprecedented lockdown due to the pandemic. For some, survival is at stake. As per data by SCAI, over the last two months, the organised retail industry has suffered losses of over
Rs 90,000 crore and large-scale unemployment is a real possibility in the future.
The industry – which is the second biggest contributor to the country’s GPD – requires a long-term relief plan from the Government to help revive it from the current situation including interest subsidies and default relief. In the meantime, malls are doing all they can to adhere to the safety and convenience mantra for a successful customer experience, by understanding the new normal and providing a safe, hygienic, and controlled physical shopping space.