As part of the Unlock 3.0, malls in the state of Maharashtra reopened on August 5 after a gap of more than four months of being totally shut due to the novel coronavirus-led lockdown.
While resuming business is a relief for malls, the question remains whether people will visit malls in times of COVID-19.
The government has allowed malls to reopen, but not without certain restrictions. Malls have been permitted to stay open between 9 am to 7 pm, curtailing the operational hours.
Moneycontrol visited the Palladium & High Street Phoenix mall, a flagship property of Phoenix Mills located in Lower Parel, Mumbai, to find out whether customers are keen on entering malls and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) being followed to ensure hygiene and social distancing.
On the safety measures front, to stave off the ill-effects of the pandemic and reassure consumers, retailers and malls have gone an extra mile to re-align their strategies to meet the new normal and gain customer confidence.
The whole experience of going to a mall has changed, with strict guidelines in place to ensure social distancing norms.
Safety Measures in the Mall
As I entered the mall, the first thing the mall staff at the gate asked to show the back of my palm to know whether I have a quarantined mark or not.
Second, I was asked to show the colour code on the Aarogya Setu app on my phone. The app showed 'Green' colour indicating 'Low Risk'.
This means that customers are required to show the risk status as indicated by the app on their phones, and those without the green colour code are not allowed to enter the mall.
At the entrance, we saw a screen for controlling crowd density.
The mall has also put in place a slew of entry protocols for customers, such as UV (ultraviolet) Scanner for disinfecting handbags and thermal scanners at entrances, sanitization mats at mall entry points for sanitising footwear, and pedal sanitiser stands.
The mall also ensures a unidirectional movement of customers (entry and exit) with the help of floor markers and signage -- in common areas, and contactless billing in retail stores. There are round floor markers across the mall to ensure social distancing of 1.5 metres.
There are also pre-sanitised shopping bags, trolleys and baskets available to shoppers in all stores.
“The mall management has provisioned for contactless digital payment methods at all touchpoints at stores, parking, F&B stores, and food courts.We have ensured all measures to ensure the safety of customers in a safe shopping zone. We also have a UV Box for disinfecting shopping bags after shopping,” Rajendra Kalkar, President West, The Phoenix Mills told Moneycontrol.
Usage of alternate urinals and washbasins, and sensor-based taps and soap dispensers are some of the other measures being adopted. Only a certain number of customers, based on the size of individual retail stores, are allowed inside.
The mall has also set up an isolation room and an ambulance for contingencies. Retail shops within malls were also taking extra care in terms of hygiene and social distancing.
Safety protocols have also been outlined for retailers, such as security personnel screening with thermo guns, stores to be managed with minimal staff, availability of sanitisers at all times, markings to ensure social distancing at the cash counter.
Boost to the economy?
This reopening comes as a ray of hope for retailers and mall developers. Allowing malls to open up has been one of the biggest demands from the retail industry.
Maharashtra has more than 75 malls, with almost 50 percent spread across Mumbai MMR, Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai Dombivli, etc. Similarly, Pune has more than 20 percent malls while the rest are spread across Amravati, Aurangabad, Kolhapur, Nasik, Nagpur, Aurangabad, etc.
Comprising a large chunk of the organized retail sector, malls and shopping complexes provide vital support to India’s consumption economy. However, in recent months, the COVID-19 pandemic has created fundamental shifts in consumer behavior, especially related to shopping.
No restaurants, no theatres?
Restaurants and theatres inside the mall remained shut as the state government has not allowed restaurants, food-court and theatres within mall premises to reopen as yet.
Under Unlock 3.0, malls are allowed to open but lockdown in Maharashtra has been extended until Aug 31.
How about Footfalls?
The scene outside the mall was so unlike the days before the coronavirus pandemic struck the world. Earlier, the seating area outside the Phoenix Mall used to be fully occupied throughout the day. However, during our visit, we spotted only two people sitting and relaxing.
In terms of footfall, there were only 4 or 5 college-going students who had been eagerly awaiting for the malls to open up.
Since the last two days, Mumbai has been receiving incessant rains that may also have impacted the footfall on the first day of the mall's reopening.
Malls have been known to have higher footfalls on work-off days and discount seasons and festivals. It remains to be seen how well the response is over the coming weekend and during the Independence day discount period.