Keeping with 2020 Trend, Shopping Centres Hope for Business to Return by June ‘21

Industry Watch | April 30, 2021 | Interview

Mukesh Kumar Infiniti Mall Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI)

Malls and shopping centres have borne the brunt of the latest Covid19 wave across cities. Before the second wave of the pandemic was fully upon the country, the Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI) recommended to the governments to treat retail employees as frontline workers and give them vaccination on priority.

Shopping Centers across the country would be more than happy to offer space for vaccination camps which can also be used for people in the locality besides retail employees, said Mukesh Kumar, Chairman and Director on Board, SCAI and CEO, Infiniti Mall.

EVENTFAQS Media reached out to Kumar to know more about the impact of the second wave on the retail sector. Edited excerpts:

As we thought we were returning to normal, there is this second wave. How badly, in numbers, has the sector been impacted?

The business had been faring pretty well in the past few months. We were successfully able to reach 60 to 70 percent  of our pre-pandemic footfall and the sales figures had reached almost 90 to 100 pc for most of the categories.  However, the new (Maharashtra) government guidelines have mandated malls to shut operations barring essential services till the month end. The retail sector will bear the most impact of this decision, as they will account for negligible sales this month.

How prepared are shopping centres for this current round of crisis?

As per the government mandate, malls across the state have been instructed to operate only for essential goods and home deliveries till 30 April 2021. Apart from that, rest all operations will be shut. This has had an adverse effect on the sales and revenue of many retail shops. We are currently hoping for the cases to subside and normalcy to resume soon.

We see a lot of vacant stores in malls across cities. What impact has the Covid19 lockdowns had on occupancy and consequently, rentals?

Churning is a regular practice in the malls. During the pandemic it has been slightly high for few malls. We have always been maintaining 95 to 98 pc occupancy in our malls. The rentals were almost at the last year's level in the last quarter of the financial year.

Which cities have been impacted the most? Where has the return to normalcy been quicker?

Given the sudden surge in cases across the country, most malls in larger cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bengaluru etc. have been instructed to shut operations either partially or completely. Some of the tier II cities like Pune, Nagpur, Chandigarh and Indore also had major impact.  As per the trends witnessed last lockdown, the business and sales may start to progress from May-end or June. The pent-up demand and the festive occasion were the perfect reason for customers to start visiting the mall and to make purchases during last year.

Retail sector employees being consumer-facing are certainly at risk and hence, frontline. Could this proposal have been pushed earlier, to vaccinate them on priority?

We understand the government’s decision to vaccinate people on a priority basis and phase-wise, with people like healthcare workers being vaccinated first. We welcome the new mandate issued by the government for the phase 3 of the vaccination drive, that will allow people over the age of 18 to get vaccinated. The new provision will permit most of our staff to get the jab and we encourage and support them for the same.

Do shopping centres have the ability and resources to manage vaccination drives for their localities?

Shopping centres have huge spaces available at their disposal. That can accommodate a large number of people and also ensure that social distancing norms and safety guidelines are adhered to. We have also commonly seen it in countries elsewhere, where large areas available such as arenas, stadiums, malls, etc. have been used to carry out successful large-scale vaccination and testing drives. Collaborating with the local authorities, shopping centres can provide the infrastructure to carry out vaccination drives in their respective localities.

Mukesh Kumar, Chairman of SCAI and CEO of Infiniti Mall, has been making the case for malls across India to be turned into vaccination centres with retail employees treated as frontline workers.

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