Regardless of the relaxation in lockdown rules by the Maharashtra government last month, which allowed malls to re-open, the addition of a new rule making it mandatory for all to be fully vaccinated in order to enter the mall premises has hit the retailer industry quite strong. Footfalls across the malls in Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) continue to be low ranging from approximately 20-30 percent compared to pre-COVID levels.
Shopping malls had to close down operations in the initial weeks as the rule mandated all employees and staff members to be fully vaccinated along with the visitors in order to reopen. But they have bounced back strongly with almost every shopping mall now working with a fully vaccinated staff.
Naviin Ibhrampurkar, head of marketing and corporate communications, Inorbit malls, said, “In less than a month, we have recovered nearly 35 percent of the footfalls. Though footfall in the initial week of reopening was limited because of the double vaccination rule. Also, the major chunk of the age group visiting us is between 21-45 years and the majority of them are still due for their second dose. So until they are not fully vaccinated, footfalls will continue being slack.”
Malls across MMR have diligently respected the new rule and in sync with local administration have made sure that entry inside the mall premises is possible only for fully vaccinated people. Stringent checks of vaccinated certificates are happening at security gates by malls.
Alongside, there are frequent visits by local municipal authorities inside malls in order to make sure COVID-19 SOPs are being followed in a vigilant fashion. Although few malls have asserted that local municipal authorities are discriminating in terms of implementation of rules and regulations and shops on high streets are functioning in full force without any adherence to COVID-19 norms.
Albeit slow recovery in business, the brighter side for malls is the high conversion rate in each store and the uptick in sales volume. Customers visiting the malls are being seen as genuine buyers as with new rules, the window shopping experience is curtailed and walk-ins are generating high business volumes.
According to a spokesperson from R City Malls, “Though the double vaccination rule has resulted in reduced footfalls for the brands, but we see this as a positive thing in the long term considering the malls become all the safer with the presence of only fully vaccinated people. We are seeing good conversions and the average spending is on the higher side. Categories that are seeing an uptick include fashion, electronics and jewellery as we move into the festive season.”
Considering the jolt from businesses to retail stores, malls have come shoulder to shoulder to bear the losses incurred in these tough times. Viviana Mall Thane in particular is not charging monthly rentals and has no minimum guarantee from the retailers.
Gurvineet Singh, CEO, Viviana Malls said, “To make sure that the connection between the visitors and retailers remains intact, we are bearing the losses incurred together. We have implemented a revenue share model with the retail stores. Almost every store in the mall is fully functional but there are few exceptions which due to low footfalls are unable to sustain. But we are optimistic that the pace at which the vaccination is increasing, we will witness a growth in recovery every month and if things are going the way they are as of now, we will reach 75 percent recovery mark by Diwali.”
Maharashtra health minister’s statement that there are no potential signs of a third COVID wave yet in the state of Maharashtra is some words of relief for the retail industry as this industry is among the first ones to be shut if a lockdown is implemented.
From digital campaigns to in-store discounts, shopping malls are doing their bit in attracting the footfalls but they are pinning their hopes on speedy vaccination for an all-around economic recovery. With the Centre’s focus now shifting on vaccinating the middle class and age group of 18-45 in priority, shopping malls are bullish that dark days of businesses shall depart soon.