Malls, eating out, shopping and watching movies have become an integral part of India’s urban life. But with the lockdown restrictions, people are confined to their homes and yearning to go out. In an interview, Yogeshwar Sharma, Executive Director and CEO of Select Infrastructure Private Limited, speaks to Outlook’s Jyotika Sood on how Delhi-NCR’s famous mall, Select Citywalk, is gearing up to open post lockdown. Edited excerpts:
How is Select City Walk preparing itself for the post-lockdown scenario?
As a responsible public space, Select Citywalk will be taking stringent measures post-lockdown to ensure social distancing and safety practices for all visitors. The measures have been drawn up in accordance with the Health Ministry’s guidelines. Manual frisking will also be replaced at entry points and thermal scanning will be introduced. Hand sanitizers will be made available. There will be restrictions on movement on escalators as well. All touchpoints at escalators will be disinfected and customer entry and occupancy will also be regulated across the premises to ensure social distancing can be appropriately followed.
In coordination with the food courts, and retail outlets, all staff will have to wear facemasks, and sanitizers will be placed at the entry of each store. Markings in each store will be placed to ensure social distancing norms. The same will be followed at the food court, with ensuring a reduced seating space. There will also be proper marking at counters and cash registers to stop crowding.
All washrooms will follow stringent disinfecting measures every hour, as will guard areas, concierge desks, and help desks. All service staff will be briefed in safety and hygiene protocols as well. Ventilation and fresh air will be taken care of. Enrolling all visitors into the efforts of Select Citywalk, a specific visitor handbook is also being prepared with guidelines for them to maintain social distancing and safe practices in a public space. This will ensure that visitors can work in tandem with the premises towards best practices.
Consumers would not be comfortable going to malls and shopping complex post lockdown. How would you try to bring back the footfall?
Of course, there will be hesitation in the consumer mind to step out but people do want to travel, eat out, be entertained and have experiences in person. Post lockdown, these activities will be unchanged but the way we perform these activities will change and it will take time for things and habits to pick up. As a public space, we will have all the required necessary checks, which will be a must in the initial post lockdown stage such as:
a) Compulsory Masks for everyone
b) Temperature Checking at entrances
c) Sanitization at all entrances including entrance for goods at the shopping centre
d) Sanitization at the entrance of stores
e) Social distancing will be maintained
f) Food and beverages and cinema will be treated separately as per the new sitting policy
g) Encouraging more digital payments and having more options for customers
One of the big arguments against the shopping complexes would be that they are closed and air-conditioned, and thus they could be breeding grounds for the virus. What will you do to address this?
We are looking at the aspect of this from an operations perspective and looking to maintain fresh air in all the common area and operate air-conditioning of the shopping centre with adequate air changes.
How will COVID- 19 change the shopping and mall culture in India? Will e- commerce win the game this fiscal by outpacing retail outlets?
E-commerce has seen large jumps in numbers during the lockdown period as people have used it for essential goods and services. Going forward, once the lockdown opens, we foresee a brief period of hesitancy, before consumers come back in full force to malls. The concept of Omni-channel retail is here to stay. Consumers need an experiential connect with brands, which only offline retail can provide. Malls are more than retail spaces, and offer a full destination experience to people, from entertainment to food and beverages. All partners and stakeholders, from retailers to mall owners, will have to collaborate to bring back consumers to malls with good offers and experiences.
We have already witnessed a surge in luxury purchases in China after the COVID-19 lockdown was lifted there. However, India is a more value-conscious market. As a result, we believe that Indian consumers may not embark on a shopping spree of non-essential goods immediately after the end of lockdown. However, considering that retail malls have transformed into community centres where people meet, greet and eat, once the lockdown is over, consumers may once again congregate at these centres to satisfy their socialising needs.
Do you think COVID- 19 has given some lessons to learn and malls would be looking for a change in infrastructure worldwide?
Andy Gilman said, “The secret of crisis management is not good vs. bad; it’s preventing the bad from getting worse.” COVID-19 has made us all learn many lessons and we need to adopt changes that will take us to a better world. COVID-19 has exposed the need to allocate resources for future epidemic prevention, and create cost-benefit models to evaluate the timing and various types of shutdowns to save lives without excessive economic disruption. Development of new technologies, which will enable manual workers to work that, will allow social distancing. The technological change will be seen in the F&B (food and beverages) areas, too, from digitizing the menu and contactless food orders, or even mobile phone menus will enable more space and safety among consumers and restaurant staff. We also believe that the momentum of digital technology will pave the way to a fast-track construction of a new era of business in almost all public spaces, and this will be one of the biggest wins for all of us as a country too. However, there surely lies an opportunity in every crisis and we believe that the Indian retail sector might embark on a different growth trajectory in the years to come with the emergence of businesses with sustainable models and a strong foothold on technology.