Sanitizing to queuing up: Mind the gap is new mall mantra as lockdown eases

Orion Mall in Bengaluru gears up to reopen (Photo: Samreen Ahmad)
Sauntering into a mall and passing a few pleasant hours there, shopping and dining, may never be the same again. As the country prepares to open itself up after over two months of a lockdown to contain the coronavirus pandemic, malls, too, are gearing up to start operations, but with a raft of safety and precautionary measures. 

At Orion Mall near the World Trade Centre in Bengaluru, the staff are busy sanitising the floors and every nook and cranny of the building. Square blue stickers are being pasted everywhere, that say: ‘Maintain a safe distance and wait for your turn’. 

Once the mall opens for business, visitors will be welcomed with a namaste and an infra-red thermometer. If a visitor’s body temperature is above 99 degrees fahrenheit, he or she will not be allowed to enter. Also, every visitor will have to pump out a generous amount of hand sanitiser from the foot-operated dispenser stand placed at the entrance.

From deploying technology for ensuring deep sanitisation to adopting painstaking steps for maintaining social distancing norms, malls across India, except those in containment zones, are working overtime to put in place measures that will make them safe to visit once they open their doors a week from now.

“We are adopting operational measures to ensure social distancing within the premises, such as allowing only one person per 75 square-feet and putting rollovers on escalators so that there is a gap of three steps between every two persons,” says Pushpa Bector, executive director, DLF Shopping Mall in Delhi. 

 

What’s more, the mall has developed a mobile app – DLF Malls Lookout App - which will help shoppers follow social distancing norms in the common areas and allow them to pre-book an entry slot.  Prozone Malls in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra have also developed an app, through which people can pre-book their entry into the malls. 

Most malls have also made it mandatory to have the Aarogya Setu app for allowing entry. QR-based download  mechanisms are being set up for those visitors who do not already have the app. Moreover, people without masks will not be allowed inside and mask counters are being set up at the entrance from where these can be bought. 

“Instead of scanning machines, we will be using hand-held scanners to avoid any contact between customers’ bags,” says Deepak Raju, deputy manager at Bengaluru’s Orion mall. 

Mumbai-based Viviana mall has installed ultra violet light-enabled baggage scanners to sanitise and scan visitors’ bags. “We have also put up sanitising tunnels at all the mall entrances and visitors and all staff will need to walk through them,” says Manoj K Agarwal, CEO of Viviana Mall.

“We will be following the same SOPs being followed by airports,” adds  Gajendra Singh Rathore, senior centre director, Phoenix Marketcity, Bengaluru, which has installed thermal scanners at entrance points of the mall. Mall owners are also mulling the setting up of emergency rooms to isolate visitors who exhibit Covid positive symptoms. 

The new normal will include long queues before washrooms, lifts, stores and escalators, as people will have to wait their turn on social distancing markings. To ensure that taking the lift is a touch-less experience, a dedicated person will stand in front of lifts to press buttons. Wardens will also be placed across the mall to keep a check on social distancing. Also, you will no longer be allowed to lean against the railings on the upper floors. The railings will be sanitised and security guards will see to it that they are not touched.

Changes have been made in the use of washrooms, too. You can forget about doing a spot of preening in front of the mirror, since visitors won’t be allowed to tarry in front of mirrors. Every alternate wash basin is being cordoned off to maintain adequate physical distance and the washrooms will be sanitised after each use. Apart from dustbins for plastic, paper and general waste, a fourth type of dustbin is being installed for trashing used masks, gloves and tissues. Water dispensers have been suspended temporarily.  “These measures will make the total costs go up by 7-8 per cent,” says Bipin Gurnani, CEO of Prozone Malls. 

Trying out clothes and accessories is also about to become a thing of the past. While 90 per cent of store owners will not allow trials of products, apparel brands which will allow it, are installing steamers to  sanitise clothes that have been tried on. 

As for the car parking and food court areas, these are to have only 50 per cent occupancy. “We also plan to adopt various technology solutions for food court ordering and self-pickup, along with digital payments, mall stores’ merchandise catalogues and enhancement of the mall’s loyalty app and website for customer convenience and ease of shopping,” says Kumar of Viviana mall.

These measures are likely to bring down the overall footfall at malls to 40 per cent of what it was before the lockdown. “However, we expect the conversion rate to go up since only serious shoppers will visit now,” says Bector of DLF Shopping Mall.

According to industry estimates, the organised retail sector has suffered losses of over Rs 90,000 crore during the lockdown period.


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