When malls open for business on June 8, they will be the same facilities that had shut two-and-a-half months ago but feel very different. Customers, too, are set to behave differently as they adapt to life anew in a Covid-19 world.
“Malls have been drawing two categories of customers: those who window shop and the serious buyers. The first category loved to amble around, browse through what’s on offer and spend hours at the food court. The second came with a purpose: to shop, watch a movie and grab a bite. When malls reopen, we expect those walking in to arrive with a list of things-to-do and leave after completing it in the shortest possible time,” said South City mall vice-president Manmohan Bagree.
Sensing the change in customer behaviour, malls are also set to reposition themselves and metamorphose from being hangout zones to safe and hygienic places to shop. The ambiance of the facilities will be very different. The buzz and zing that earlier defined the character of malls will be conspicuously absent.
“Social distancing markers isn’t the only change that will happen in malls. The place will be a lot more muted as there will be fewer people in malls. The maximum number of people allowed will be nearly a third or a fourth of the footfall that malls used to record on a weekday,” said Quest mall vice-president Sanjeev Mehra.
With the Shopping Centres Association of India, the umbrella body representing all malls, drawing up a 75 sqft per person, including shoppers, retailers and support staff, footfall will be severely restricted. For instance, at the 7.4 lakh sqft South City mall that would record footfall of 30,000-40,000 on weekdays and 1-1.2 lakh during weekends, only 10,000 can be present at any given time. With 2,500 retail staff and employees, that leaves room for only 7,500 customers. Similarly, Mani Square with 5 lakh sqft can accommodate 6,500 people, including customers and staff.
However, with the average time spent per customer at malls set to go down from 2 hours 45 minutes earlier to an hour now, both because cinemas are yet to open and wariness about catching the infection in a public space, the churn in customers will be higher.
The buzz will also be absent as events and promotions that were a regular feature feature at mall atrium will no longer be held. “Instead, there will be awareness messages on precautions to avoid Covid-19 infection,” said Acropolis mall general manager K Vijayan.
Retailers Association of India CEO Rajagopalan Kumar believed retail sales would be down by half for at least two-three months and pick up once the health situation improved and customers gained confidence.
Non-essential retail sales have seen a frightening drop from 50% in March 2020 to 80% in May. That should revive a bit. But essential retail, which has been the lifeline of the nation, was also down by 40% in April and may further slide to 30% given its current run rate. “And that is worrying,” Kumar said.
Source: Times of India