Malls in Karnataka will open for business from Monday, June 8 as announced by the Karnataka government for the first time since March 15, barring those in containment zones. But with the growth of COVID-19 infections still continuing, mall operators will be strictly enforcing certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) to ensure that adequate physical distancing and sanitisation protocols are maintained.
Mall operators told TNM that the shopping experience post-lockdown will be quite different from the existing norms.
Operators of Prestige Forum Malls, Garuda and Pheonix Malls said that they will only allow customers who have a green status on their Arogya Setu app.
Most of the SOPs that the malls are following are the same as those formulated by the Shopping Centre Association of India, which was submitted to the Karnataka government ahead of the state governmentâ€™s nod to open the malls.
Safety and hygiene
TNM spoke to multiple mall operators and it is clear that masks, the Arogya Setu app, thermal screening and frequent hand sanitisation facilities inside the premises will be a common feature.
Speaking in favour of the governmentâ€™s decision to green-light the opening of malls, Mohammed Ali, who is the chief executive officer of Prestige Forum Malls, said, â€śMalls are mostly a controlled environment and from our side we will maintain hygiene and safety as it has always been our top priority. We have increased the periodicity of the cleaning processes that use to do. Further we have purchased some automated machinery so that best practices followed across the world can be maintained.â€ť
The company operates six such malls across Karnatakaâ€”- four in Bengaluru and one each in Mysuru and Mangaluru.
Ali further said for Forum Malls, there will be disinfection tunnels that all customers and vendors have to go through on their way into the mall.
Chickpet MLA Uday B Garudachar, who owns multiple malls in Karnataka, including Garuda Mall in Bengaluru, said that if a customer is not wearing a mask, the mall will give them masks for free and educate them on precautions.
Apart from masks, thermal screening and other standard measures, Gajendra Singh Rathore, senior centre director for Phoenix Marketcity Bengaluru, says that digital transactions will be preferred over cash transactions.
He added, â€śThe trend of people walking into malls or sitting around in the malls as part of their social activities will largely reduce at least for the time till we get a vaccine for the disease.â€ť
Garudachar said that prior to this pandemic, malls would see massive footfalls and even more than a lakh visitors on a single day during the festive season. To ensure physical distancing, malls will be forced to regulate the entry of visitors.
On this, Ali said, â€śEntry will be restricted to one-third capacity of the mall accounting 150 sq ft for each person.â€ť
Koramangala Forum Mall, for example, will not allow entry of more than 2,500 persons at a time. Same mechanism will be followed by the shops themselves, depending on the size of the store.
The mall will also soon launch a booking mechanism for customers.
â€śOnly five persons, as opposed to the full capacity of 15, will be allowed in lifts. On escalators, people will be allowed to stand on alternate steps. Similarly, for toilets, every alternative urinals will be sealed,â€ť Ali added.
Phoenix Marketcity will have an app-based registration process to enter the malls and customers registered in the app will be preferred over others. Once the entry capacity is reached, further entry will be closed.
Change in mall experience
Ali says that for food courts in Forum Mall, including UB City, there will be a mobile app through which customers can order and pay for food from different kitchens while sitting at their table to ensure minimum contact.
Phoenix Marketcityâ€™s Rathore says cinema and food, beverage businesses will also be forced to reinvent their business models to reassure customer safety. For instance, cinemas may be allowed to book 50% of their seats, whereas eateries will operate at 30% capacity, with two at a table to ensure no person sits in close proximity to the other. Movie theaters will not be allowed to reopen in June.
Some stores may do away with trial room facilities. For exchange of purchased items too, there might be restrictions. Returned clothes will be put back on the shelves only after they are disinfected.
Effect on business and livelihoods
In its memorandum to the Karnataka government, the SCAI had said that the shopping mall industry provides livelihoods to one lakh persons through direct and indirect means in the state.
The three mall operators TNM spoke to claimed that despite loss of business, there have been no major job losses.
Rathore said, â€śIn our business, the only revenue is rent and due to the lockdown, it has come to zero. There is a threshold limit on which we can run without business and so far, the limit has not been exceeded. We have neither laid off any of our employees nor have we reduced their pay. Only thing is that the salary has been delayed for some.â€ť
Garuda Mallâ€™s Uday said that they also have not fired anybody. Staff members who earn more than a lakh are being given only half of their normal salary.
Expressing hope that business will bounce back to normalcy, the operators said global trends, especially in southeast Asian countries, suggest that the overall consumption wonâ€™t go down more than 20-30% from the status quo.
Rathore noted that certain categories will do better than others. â€śLeisure, food, tech and cosmetics will likely have good business as usual. But party-wear and high-end luxury wear sales will likely take a hit,â€ť he said.