As the country is reopening for business after more than two months of lockdown amid rising cases of coronavirus, shopping centres are gradually starting operations with a sense of uncertainty. While reopening its doors, shopping malls are expecting footfall to not exceed 20-30 per cent initially even as retailers are still in the process of renegotiating deals for their stores with the mall developers.
With consumer sentiment remaining low even after relaxations in lockdown, malls are witnessing a decline of 77 per cent and high street retail registered a fall of 61 per cent in business during the first half of June, as compared to the same period last year. A survey conducted by the Retailers Association of India (RAI) said that the lockdown relaxations did not benefit retailers as there was no significant surge in business.
Talking about the government’s move to starting economic activities again, Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, RAI, said, “We greatly appreciate the centre’s detailed and meticulous guidelines on opening malls under the Unlock 1.0 phase. During the lockdown, our members worked closely to develop a charter of retail SOPs which are in close alignment with these guidelines. This gives us tremendous confidence in our ability and preparedness to facilitate the smooth and safe opening of retail across the nation. We were happy to read clarifications around air-conditioning, social distancing, deep cleaning of restrooms and the recommended audiences for malls. In order to do justice to the centre’s efforts, we pledge our commitment to states in ensuring the uniform and speedy opening of all retail across the nation, which is now an economic imperative. We believe that these guidelines also pave the way for all kinds of stores irrespective of size and location, including in malls, to operate without unnecessary restrictions like number of hours, size or side of business etc.”
With every passing day, even as the number of cases is on the rise, citizens are gradually opening up to the new ways of life and are getting to their routines with precautions. Shopping centres, meanwhile, have reported a sizeable footfall. One of the largest chains of premium shopping malls across India, DLF Shopping Malls too has started operations, though partially, and opened its malls to the public, starting 10 June as per the curfew hours set by the Government. DLF Shopping Malls also offered its mall tenants a 100 per cent waiver on minimum guarantee (MG) rent for the entire lockdown period till 15 June, followed by 75 per cent off till 30 June, and it has also proposed 50 per cent, 24 per cent and 10 per cent waiver on MG rent for July-September 2020, October-December 2020 and January-March 2021 respectively. While this is one positive initiative from DLF Shopping Malls in order to keep the wheels going, Apparel Resources gets candid with Pushpa Bector, Executive Vice President and Head, DLF Shopping Malls, about the precautionary measures at the malls and consumer footfall among other things.
The industry opines that there needs to be a structured, staggered opening of shopping malls. What factors will decide the opening of a centre in an area? What will be your opening hours?
Pushpa: We welcome the directive from the Government of India; we have been preparing ourselves well over the past 2 months and are geared up to open our malls. The safety and well-being of our employees, customers and partners continue to be of utmost importance, and the malls will follow all social distancing guidelines. Right from the temperature checks at the entrance, 3-step rollovers at escalators, permanent distance markers in elevators, repeated sanitisation of common places including washrooms; trained staff and more, we are positive to enable a safe yet enjoyable shopping experience for our customers.
We have been working closely with our retail partners and the industry at large and have drafted SOPs which include every minute detail for sanitisation including door handles, wheelchairs, baby feeding room, benches, carts, etc. The malls will operate between 11 am and 8 pm as per the curfew hours set by the Government.
Elucidate on the precautionary measures at DLF Shopping Malls.
Pushpa: Now our focus is on consumer safety, their health and providing them the best experience of shopping in the mall. There are norms on the number of people who are entering the mall, so consumers feel safe. The following protocols are in place for maintaining social distancing:
- A controlled point of entry for the consumers with proper screening and sanitation for all the guests.
- Safe distance of 2 metres from other customers and staff to be maintained.
- Not more than three customers are allowed to enter the elevator at a time. However, the number of passengers is determined depending upon the size of elevator… like in DLF Cyberhub, our lifts will work for 2 pax at a time due to size constraint.
- For escalators, one customer is allowed after three steps roll over.
- Permanent distance markers are placed in the lifts, so people don’t exceed the required capacity.
- Real-time foot traffic, real-time notifications on safety and cleanliness, booking of time slots, golden hours to visit our malls will be instituted from DLF Shopping Malls ‘Lukout’ app going forward.
- There are sanitiser stations across all our malls.
Our effort is to win our consumers’ confidence and bring them back to our malls. For that, we will be doing an aggressive communication on our DLF Shopping Malls ‘Lukout’ app and on our in-house digital media platforms to spread awareness about the safety measures that are being taken in order to overcome the challenges. We are also putting technology in place in order to provide real-time information about the safety and cleanliness which consumers can check on the app.
How are you helping retail brands in facilitating contactless shopping?
Pushpa: We, at DLF Shopping Malls, have strong relationships with our retail partners. We are working closely with them to ensure that all the norms are followed. Our retail partners are helping in implementing this by limiting the number of people who can be inside a store at any given time. They are also encouraging digital payments as the preferred method for transactions for the convenience of our customers.
Fashion retailers are planning to do away with trial rooms and are drafting strict return policies for combating the virus. F&B brands, on the other hand, will reduce seating arrangements to 50 per cent and maintain placing seating and tables 6 feet apart for all customers to ensure social distancing. They are accepting pre-orders and takeaways to avoid long queues in the mall. We are facilitating contactless service for food and other services, like food ordering, table booking, take away or curbside pick-up.
How long, according to you, will it take for shopping malls to start attracting consumers back to the outlets?
Pushpa: Our consumer research tells us that consumers now will come to the malls with the purpose and decision to shop or eat. We will attract the serious shoppers to the malls, the people who are looking at purchasing. And hence, our goal will be to make malls the most convenient, contactless for the consumer to do shopping and he or she feels safe in the mall environment. This will bring in a positive trajectory and bring back consumer confidence in the long run.
The shoppers who visited DLF Malls this past week were the serious buyers. They came with a targeted approach and with a definite plan in their mind before walking into the mall and were out very quickly after making the purchase. The conversion rate was that much higher. We opened our luxury malls and our South Delhi property with 60 per cent occupancy. In Delhi, we are getting 4,000-5,000 people in the mall on a daily basis. F&B will be taking a little more time to gather the heat.