Maharashtra malls set to open, owners expect Diwali to bring the spark back

Dussehra falls on October 25, while Diwali is in the second week of November.
After keeping doors of most Maharashtra malls shut for nearly five months, key mall operators are preparing to welcome guests on Wednesday. Malls in the financial capital began shutting down from mid-March as the state swung into action to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

Players such as Phoenix, Inorbit, Infiniti, and Oberoi, which have malls across the city, said they have vigorous sanitization and social distancing measures in place to ensure they adhere to guidelines once the malls reopen.

Cleaning and disinfection procedures have already begun at most malls, barring those at Thane, ahead of the reopening on August 5.

Rajneesh Mahajan, chief executive officer, Inorbit Malls, which has properties in Malad and Vashi, said business should stabilise in about eight weeks from the time of reopening. “By early October, we expect sales to pick up as we go into the crucial Dussehra-Diwali period.”

Dussehra falls on October 25, while Diwali is in the second week of November.

Rashmi Sen, chief operating officer (malls), The Phoenix Mills, said: “We do expect customer demand to increase during the festive season. Having said that, a lot depends on government policies, too. Food courts, restaurants, and multiplexes have not been permitted to operate yet within malls in Maharashtra. It will be important to have all categories operational for stability to return.”

Phoenix has three malls in Maharashtra including two in Mumbai and one in Pune.

Apart from food courts, multiplexes, and restaurants, even family entertainment centres such as gaming and kids’ zones have not been permitted to operate within malls in Mumbai for now. These segments together contribute a third of a mall's footfalls, according to retail experts.

“Restrictions such as these are a dampener because most malls are positioned as entertainment and shopping destinations,” said Mukesh Kumar, chief executive officer, Infiniti Mall, which has two properties in Mumbai.

“Even then, a start had to be made somewhere. That is finally happening. In the initial period, we see mostly serious shoppers coming to malls. This is a trend visible across most malls that have reopened in other cities,” he said.

Anuj Arora, general manager, Oberoi Mall, which has a property in Goregaon, Mumbai, expected retailers to be aggressive with their consumer offers and promotions, especially apparel, lifestyle, and electronics, once malls reopen in the city.

Retail experts said operating costs could shoot up by 5-7 per cent for malls this financial year as expenditure to maintain hygiene and safe shopping standards increases for players. But Arora said this expenditure had been factored in by most operators and is likely to be offset by lower marketing expenditure this year by most developers.

In the last two months, since malls reopened in the rest of India, retail experts have said the response from smaller towns had been better than large cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru. A recent study by the Shopping Centres Association of India said categories such as electronics, beauty and apparel saw an uptick in sales in smaller towns, as pent-up demand pushed people to stock up.

Consumers in larger cities, a survey by the Retailers Association of India, said have depended mostly on online channels to meet their requirements in beauty and apparels, though electronics retailers have seen an uptick in sales in June and July, due to the work-from-home and learn-from-home wave that has gained steam following the Covid-19 pandemic.

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