A virtual panel of retailers and stakeholders in the industry discussed issues of safety, revival and gaining consumer trust once the lockdown lifts.

How malls movie theatres and restaurants plan to revive post-lockdownImage for representation
Atom Coronavirus Thursday, April 23, 2020 - 18:14

In the lifespan of the coronavirus pandemic so far, it became clear early on that social distancing was the best way to stop the spread of the virus. That meant urban community hang-out spots, like malls, restaurants and movie theatres, were among the first to close their doors. 

But with just over a week left for the lockdown to be lifted in India – if it is not extended – there are several questions about what life will look like going forward. How safe will it be to move around, eat out or watch a film? The same questions are on industry stakeholders’ minds as well. 

In a webinar organised by Retailer Association of India (RAI), industry stakeholders shed light on the changes that malls, cinemas and food and beverage industries will likely have to enact. The panelists included Alok Tandon, Chief Executive Officer, Inox Leisure Ltd;  Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants that owns Social - a cafe and co-working space chain - and Smoke House Deli restaurants; and Ashwin Puri, Co-Founder & CEO of Lake Shore India, a real-estate company. The panel was moderated by Anuj Kejriwal, MD & CEO, Anarock Retail Advisors Pvt Ltd.

What’s more, the lockdown has resulted in major revenue losses in these industries, so precautionary steps will go hand-in-hand with cost-cutting measures for a few months up to a year.

Restaurants and cinemas

Food and entertainment will take time to bounce back, and cinemas will be the last to revive, the panelists said. Comparatively, home electronics and fitness equipment will bounce back sooner.

Restaurants and film theatres will also likely see a shift – not just in safety measures, but also in how they operate, how they (re)design their spaces once the lockdown is lifted.

For instance, Riyaaz Amlani said that they would probably have to put one table where there were two earlier; or use the two to create more width between people sitting opposite each other to maintain appropriate social distance. They could also be looking at pre-packaged, UV-treated cutlery, contactless flushes and taps in the washrooms and so on.

Similarly Alok Tandon said, “All operators will likely have to reduce their food and beverage menus. On opening we will have to ensure that the intervals are staggered and that no two intervals coincide so that people don’t crowd in the lobbies. We will have to ensure that the food that is served is done by certified COVID-19 free employees and that the cutlery is absolutely hygienic.”

Alok added they would have to look at “uncramping” their spaces – bigger entrances to cinema halls, bigger lobbies, wider seats, to maintain social distance, and to ensure they regain confidence of their customers.

Malls could introduce new systems

The panelists agreed that more than just shopping, malls had become places that people gather to hang out at. With that in mind, it becomes imperative for malls to decongest.

Ashwin Puri said perhaps they could look at reducing the shift timings in malls. For example, they could only keep one shift which is 2 pm to 11 pm, which is the peak leisure time. “We could perhaps look at a centralized pick up system in malls – where a person can shop, but pick up their buy from another spot,” Ashwin said. Dalip added that perhaps retailers in malls could also look at home deliveries of products.

Trial rooms are also spaces that could look at redesign to decongest, and reduce contact with surfaces.

Overall, stakeholders would also have to look at reskilling their staff so that the same person can take up more tasks so as to reduce crowding.

Vishak Kumar, CEO, Madura Fashion & Lifestyle (MF&L) pointed out that for a while, they would all have to “overmanage” security and social distancing in malls. “It will take some time for demand to pick up [once the lockdown lifts] and that will be the time that various brands can work on to demonstrate wellness, which could give a new kind of retail therapy to consumers,” he said.

Consumer behaviour

A lot of how the consumers perceive and come back will depend on the first 90 days once the restrictions are relaxed, Dalip said. “The younger generation or Gen Z will be the first to bounce back, because they don’t have a very high fear factor, and have managed to save some money,” he stated.

However, brands and retailers can’t just focus on advertising to get people back, but also have to regain their reach through word of mouth – which would mean getting digital influencers on board, Dalip added. “Another factor is communication. Brands will have to bring the trust and confidence of the customers back. And as long as their claims are based on facts and are truthful, people will trust them,” he said.

All the panelists emphasised on this trust factor – retailers and malls will be able to gain and retain customers only if they regain the latter’s confidence regarding safety and quality procedures and products post lockdown.

Vishak said that things like health and wellness will see a surge of interest – meaning that brands that manage to stay relevant will bounce back quickly. For instance, a lot of companies right now have moved into essential services like grocery delivery, to remain relevant. Therefore, businesses would have to look at cost-cutting measures without losing value and relevance.

The fact that people have quickly taken to e-commerce and online shopping is something that will continue, stakeholders said. “If you’re building a commodity based business now, then it’ll be consumed online,” Ashwin said.

Dalip pointed out that there are three things that the industries would need to do – restore, revive, and resurge. “There’s a Chinese proverb that says when the winds of change blow, some people build walls, some build windmills. Over the last few weeks, we’ve built walls that have protected our partners, our employees and our assets. Now it’s time to think how we can build windmills,” he said.

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