Shopping malls, an intrinsic part of urban India, may take up to a year to return to normalcy, and when they do, they are likely to operate in a very different avatar, say mall owners and retailers.
As businesses gradually open up in a post covid-19 world, shopping malls may well be the last in the line, as discretionary spends are likely to remain low and social distancing becomes the new normal.
A webinar on ‘Malls in a post covid-19 scenario’ on Tuesday hosted by the Retailers Association of India (RAI), focused how the entire retail ecosystem, including multiplexes and restaurants, will need to undergo a complete change in order to bring back consumers once the current crisis is over.
Alok Tandon, CEO, Inox Leisure Ltd, said that movie theatres, malls and restaurants will be the last to open, even though they closed before anyone else did.
“...For food, all operators will have to reduce the menu and ensure food that is served is safe. Movie intervals need to be staggered and no two intervals are the same so people don’t crowd in the lobby. Our main job would be to regain the confidence of customers," Tandon said.
Shopping malls in the country are not confined to retail alone but has become a larger social experience, where food and entertainment play a major part.
Ashwin Puri , director, Lake Shore India Advisory, said that the revival period for malls would be 6-12 months, as consumers will take limited risks and confidence will return slowly as cases reduce.
“Food and beverage, and cinema will be the slowest to resume. Among food, cinema and entertainment, cinema (multiplexes) will be the last to resume. Certain retail categories such as home, fitness, electronics and value fashion may bounce back earlier. Branded fashion will take more time as people will socialize less," Puri said.
The restaurant industry that employs millions was the first to close down, some voluntarily, as the pandemic spread. Restaurants are also planning precautions such as contactless dining experience as and when consumers return.
"We are looking at creating more space between two tables, also digital menus so you don’t touch the menu. We are thinking if we can we make the taps and flushes contactless," said Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and MD, Impresario Entertainment Hospitality.
The possibility of using pre-sanitized, packaged cutlery in restaurants to reduce any point of contact that could be a safety hazard is also being considered.
However, Amlani said that this will lead to higher cost of operations on lower revenues. "This will be a phase of transition for the retail industry," he added.
Last week, online food aggregator Zomato said it is working on adding new features on its app that will allow diners to use online menus, place orders, and make payments online when they visit restaurants as it anticipates the covid-19 pandemic to vastly change consumer habits.
"We have created a small sub-panel to make the entire mall shopping experience a safer one," said Vishak Kumar, CEO, Madhura Fashion & Lifestyle, Aditya Birla Fashion and Retail Ltd. There will be a new normal which will get created, and businesses will have to get used to it. "There will be different cost structures for running retail businesses going forward," he added.