The Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) has written to the Maharashtra Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray urging him and the state government to take concrete steps in the urgent opening of malls in the state.
Maharashtra has more than 75 malls across the state, with almost 50 per cent spread across Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Thane, Kalyan, Navi Mumbai Dombivali, etc. Similarly, Pune has more than 20% malls while the rest are spread across Amravati, Aurangabad, Kolhapur, Nasik, Nagpur, Aurangabad, etc. The lockdown has also put plans of more than 30 malls on hold which are presently under construction.
In its letter to Thackeray, SCAI has hinted that the jobs of about 5 million people in modern retail going under the hammer if urgent action is not taken by the State Government. This is being seen as a result of freeze in revenues following the lockdown which has impacted the entire retail industry.
Centres have now started expressing that it is becoming difficult with every passing day to meet day to day expenses including salaries due to zero revenue and cash reserves drying up, over the last few months. The first big impact could be seen as early as August 2020.
SCAI in its letter said that stocks worth hundreds of lakhs of all retailers are getting damaged and there is a fear that the value of the goods will be lost if it is not sold immediately, and the will hurt the businesses further.
"The industry has already seen losses exceeding Rs 100,000 crore. Maharashtra is a critical market for shopping centres and a delay in opening malls will prove to be a death knell for us," said Amitabh Taneja, Chairman Shopping Centres Association of India.
Citing examples of states where malls have been allowed to open up, SCAI said that it has developed and rolled out stringent SOPs in over 500 shopping malls across the country that have opened up and are successfully implementing social distancing guidelines along with other necessary measures in the best possible manner.
While malls have opened in most states from June 8 onwards, Maharashtra is yet to take a decision on easing the lockdown norms. Presently malls are operational in major metros and tier-1 cities including those which have witnessed Mumbai and MMR like spread of the pandemic. Cities which have opened malls include Delhi, Gurugram, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Lucknow, Jaipur, Ahmedabad as well as small but populous cities such as Agartala, Bhopal, Siliguri, Raiganj, Indore and more recently Cuttack to name a few.
Manoj Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Malls said, "It is reassuring to see the confidence posed by State Government’s across the country in our SOPs and our ability to strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines and provide a safe shopping experience. We have urged the Maharashtra Government to give us the opportunity to atleast start operating in a controlled manner and help in the industry’s survival."
Malls that have opened have been capping the number of visitors along the lines of SCAI and the health Ministry guidelines. According to SCAI, consumer sentiment towards shopping in malls has been very positive owing to the controlled atmosphere in which they are being operated. "A recent dipstick carried out by SCAI members across the country asserted shopping malls as the safest place to visit given all the preparations, strict implementation of safety protocols and the ability to ensure crowd control," Taneja added.
Rajendra Kalkar, President West and Wholetime Director of The Phoenix Mills Ltd. which operates Palladium and High Street Phoenix in Lower Parel said, "We are actually seeing the more serious shopper walking into our malls in Lucknow, Bareilly and Bangalore. This is unlike the times when malls were seen as a hangout destination. Conversion rate has more than doubled, which is a good sign. The lockdown had led to pent up demand, which we now see being eased out with categories like electronics, cosmetics, personal apparel seeing sizeable sales."
SCAI in its letter to the minister has made some pointed recommendations on guidelines that should be implemented once malls are opened up. Among these include strict crowd control by adopting a 75 sq.ft per person formula within malls and retail stores, mandatory use of the government’s Aarogya Setu app to enter malls, reduced staffing at 60-70 percent with single shift operations on all days, food court and restaurant seating to be reduced to 50 per cent, reduced parking to maintain social distancing, encouraging contactless payments, isolation room facility, availability of oxygen cylinder, Ambulance-on-Call, to highlight a few.
Mukesh Kumar, Chairman of the SCAI-SOP-Committee, SCAI and CEO, Infiniti Malls said, "We have undertaken several measures to maintain safety and hygiene like implementation of technology to supplement and in some cases to replace manual interventions for example installation and use of Thermal Devices to check temperature of visitors, automated dispensers for hand sanitisers, use of density counting equipment to keep a real time check on the number of people in the mall, frequent sanitisation of hand rails of escalators. These have been some of the foremost priorities in addition to the guidelines issued by the Government."