The COVID-19 pandemic has caused momentous disruptions among the brick-and-mortar retailers in the West, especially in the USA and the UK. Many of them have had to down their shutters. Retailers like J. C. Penny, Sears, Neiman Marcus, Toys R Us, Circuit City, etc., have packed up. Customers were shifting to online purchases, prior to the pandemic. The pandemic accelerated the slide towards ecommerce, triggered by protracted lockdowns.
The decision of John Lewis Department stores in the UK, reduced its outlets by a third from the 50 prior to the lockdown, has caused heartburn, anger and unhappiness among consumers. The closure of the Sheffield store, signals that many other retailers are also evaluating how much physical store space they really need, post the pandemic. Online sales which comprised 20 to 30 percent of sales, are now around 50 per cent.
Organised Retail’s Relevance
Retailers selling through physical stores will thus have to struggle to remain relevant. They will have to win the hearts of their consumers and provide exhilarating experiences. Retailers will also have to be relevant ethically and socially, to retain the loyalty of their customers.
Now, the key priority of retailers, is to lure customers back to the malls and shopping centres, as lockdowns ease. Organised retailers like supermarkets and shopping centres can play a major role in fostering rapid vaccinations. Governments will disburse vaccines to corporations and private organisations, as availability improves, for administering them. Covid-19 vaccination camps were piloted in Gurugram in high-rise condominiums. This project is now being extended nationally. A new pilot is being initiated in Gurugram, wherein private sector companies will establish vaccination camps on their premises, to vaccinate employees. Organised retailers should also partner and play a proactive role in this historic vaccination drive.
Retailers can offer jabs to their customers at their premises, when they visit, as the availability of vaccines improves. The retailers will have to source authorised health workers and galvanise equipment and waiting areas. Pharmacies in the malls and shopping centres, can spearhead vaccinations. Walmart’s 5,000 pharmacies in the USA, have offered to administer 1o to 13 million vaccines a month, after they are freely available.
Global Retailers: Pivotal Role
Global Retailers like Marks &Spencer, GAP, H&M, Zara, Ikea, etc., can play a pathbreaking role in accelerating vaccinations. Most of these retailers have hundreds of vendors, manufacturing garments, accessories, furniture, etc., for them. These vendors are based in developing countries like Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc. Many of these countries have been sluggish in vaccination. Some countries do not have the moneys to buy the vaccines. Others, are unable to source the vaccines, in this international scramble for vaccines. Bangladesh has been able to vaccinate only 3.2 percent of its population, Sri Lanka 4.1 percent, Cambodia 1.8 percent and Vietnam 0.05 percent, till around 26 March 2021. Global Retailers could network with vaccine manufacturers and local governments to ensure that all their vendors and their workers are vaccinated expeditiously. The bill for the vaccination could be picked by the Global Retailer. This contribution will generate massive loyalty for the global retailers. People remember good deeds.
Pay for Staff Vaccination
In many countries, citizens pay for the vaccinations, at private hospitals. Retailers can get their own staff vaccinated at private hospitals and pay for it. If the retailers pay for the vaccinations, the staff could be more willing to get themselves inoculated.
Special Discounts to The Vaccinated
Shoppers who can show that have taken the vaccine, through a certificate, could be entitled to a special discount for some months. Many malls are struggling to allure footfalls, since consumers are shy of spending. Special incentives to the vaccinated, will also draw more consumers to the malls. Western countries are in the process of finalising Vaccine Passports. They will become necessary to travel freely between countries or even enter a pub in the UK. Carrying the vaccination papers, is likely to become increasingly mandatory in the future. Additional incentives to vaccinated shoppers, may augment the pace of vaccinations.
Areas for Mass Vaccinations
Large shopping malls could earmark and offer some areas to the health departments of governments for mass vaccinations. When countries commence vaccinating citizens below the age of 45 years, there could be over-crowding. Large shopping malls can offer their spacious areas. Malls across the world, from Morumbi Shopping in Sao Paulo in Brazil to Emirates Mall in Dubai to the DLF Promenade in Delhi, have large spaces for restaurants, relaxation and games. These can be deployed for mass vaccinations.
Retail and shopping complexes also have large parking areas. They should offer these spaces to the health departments to vaccinate the general public.
Vaccinate Staff at Premises
Large hypermarkets which have more than 200 employees, could plan to vaccinate their entire staff, at their own premises, through the health departments or private medical staff.
Customers who visit their stores, will feel safer, if they are serviced by staff who have been vaccinated. So, the priority should be to get all staff vaccinated at the earliest. The staff could even wear badges affirming, “I am safe. I have the vaccine!” This will reassure shoppers on the floors. Even more comforting for the customers will be a board at the entrance of the store, affirming, “All our staff are vaccinated.”
Rapport: Loyal Customers
Organised retailers, like supermarkets and shopping centres, have their loyal customer lists. They can write to them, underscoring the importance of getting vaccinated. They can offer to organise transport for their loyal consumers, to take them to the vaccination centres. If the Retailer is vaccinating customers, it can provide transport to loyal customers to visit the store for the inoculation. Retailers can even liaise with Health departments to inoculate their senior citizen loyal customers at their homes.
Every Tiny Contribution Matters
In battling the pandemic, every contribution, however minuscule, matters. People remember the good that corporations, malls, supermarkets do, in times of distress. So, even large posters in the store, urging customers to get vaccinated, will make a difference.
Supermarkets can even print messages on all their cash memos and shopping bags, urging customers to get vaccinated. A message like: “Getting Vaccinated Is My Responsibility to My Family” can spur customers into action.
When customers visit shopping malls or supermarkets, they should feel safe. They will feel secure, if they understand they are in a sanitised environment, where all the staff are inoculated.
Vaccinations: Crucial for Normalcy
To overcome the economic gloom in the countries, it is imperative that people go out, spend and enjoy themselves. This can only happen if the malls and shopping centres take proactive steps to reassure customers.
India has disbursed only 61 million vaccines (4.4 percent of population), compared to 142 million in the USA (43 percent of population), 107 million in China (eight percent of population), 34 million in the UK (50 percent of population), till 29 March. At the current rate of vaccination, India will need 56 months or around five years, to vaccinate the entire country. This, would be unsatisfactory. Many parts of the country are already in the throes of a second wave of infections and lockdowns, including the large metropolis of Mumbai. India needs to press the accelerator strongly to vaccinate over two million citizens daily.
Partnering with organised retail in the vaccinations, will accelerate the pace of vaccinations and ensure a faster return to normalcy. This contribution will also generate massive goodwill for the Retailers. And goodwill is a long-term asset for any business. Always.