Manoj K Agarwal, CEO, Viviana Mall, on how physical retail is expected to change post-Covid-19 and how they are getting prepared for this change.
How challenging have the last few months been for Viviana Mall considering the lockdown has led to the complete closure of malls?
The lockdown period is a challenge for all of us, but we have to take such challenges in our stride. We are in regular touch with relevant authorities and are offering our full support and compliance. We are coordinating with our hypermarket on a daily basis to ensure a quality experience to all visiting customers as the grocery section of the same is trading.
The ongoing lockdown has provided us with a window to take up non-routine maintenance works as well as certain upgradations that otherwise would have been difficult for us to carry out being of longer duration. This becomes difficult as we have to ensure that our shoppers do not face any inconvenience on this account. For example, a new set of cables were laid along with installing new set of circuit breakers, carrying out extensive roof water proofing, major cleaning and overhauling of cooling towers, thorough descaling of HVAC chillers, etc.
In addition, we are keeping our customers engaged through various posts and live streaming of activities like cooking demos, craft and fun activities for children, Zumba online, yoga online, live music performances, recipe sharing as well as a host of other contests and activities including tips on how to deal with the novel virus.
We have drastically cut down our day to day CAM expenses and our team is very proactive in rolling out these measures.
Due to the lockdown, there is no vendor movement, we are doing all our maintenance activities in house as per a detailed schedule worked out again proactively by our Maintenance Chief and his staff.
Also, we have worked out a daily operating schedule across departments for various types of mechanical equipment that are there in the shopping centre. This is with a view to keep them in readiness for operations when the shopping centre starts trading again.
How do you expect the consumer behaviour getting changed post lockdown days, when people might be scared of going to public spaces and would prefer to avoid mass gathering? How do you plan to tackle the challenge?
When the lockdown gets lifted, we are quite bullish and we anticipate that there will be increased demand for goods. In the last couple of weeks, we had commissioned a survey to understand public sentiment and to effectively plan to manage the crowd by having the requisite Standard Operating Procedures in place. The findings show that close to 50% of the people are willing to visit Viviana Mall during the initial fortnight of re-opening and are particularly keen to visit our many department stores and anchors like Shoppers Stop, Lifestyle, Zara & H&M apart from the F&B offerings and of course, the fashion and apparel segments.
We also feel that while customers would be extremely concerned about the Covid-19, health & wellness, essential categories, home, basic apparel and dining would be dominating the mall trading. For example, stores at Viviana Mall such as Mr DIY and Miniso may see immediate demand. Also, stores selling smart phones and accessories would get footfalls from people looking to buy a branded and original handsfree earpod or headphone, travel adapter, new phones to replace their “beyond repair” handsets, speakers, etc. Another demand would be for kitchen appliances and that would draw people towards Home Centre, WonderChef and Big Bazaar that Viviana Mall houses. Hence, in a phased manner, the sales momentum will get restored basis immediate needs to other categories in a short time and finally to the want for buying premium and luxury products. People will choose multiplexes, dine-in restaurants and cafes after analyzing and making sure that public spaces are risk-free. This will gradually help in driving business.
During a crisis, it is important to keep customers engaged and communicating with them. What are you doing on that front?
To instill a sense of confidence in the customers and retailers, we are regularly posting videos and clips on our social media highlighting various cleaning, sanitizing, training and maintenance activities being carried out at the shopping centre. We are in touch with many customers and retailers telephonically as well.
Viviana Mall continues to engage with consumers through various digital initiatives and activities. This marketing strategy has resonated well with the audience, as it allows everyone to abide by rule to remain indoors and keeps people entertained and engaged. We, at Viviana Mall, have been hosting various live sessions and activities for audience through social media platforms to keep them occupied, entertained as well as informed. To highlight a few of these activities, we are keeping our customers engaged through various posts and live streaming of activities like cooking demos, craft and fun activities for children, Zumba online, yoga online, live music performances, recipe sharing as well as a host of other contests and activities including tips on how to deal with the novel virus.
What have you been doing in terms of marketing? Has there been a change in your marketing mix?Our marketing activity continues irrespective of the mall being fully operational or not. As part of our marketing strategy, we have currently moved all our on-ground events and activities to online mode. Daily, various engagement activities and live shows are conducted to entertain and inform Viviana Mall’s official account followers on Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Of course, initially we would focusing on setting the mood and inclination in the customer’s mind to start coming back to mall and instilling the required confidence in them that malls are safe social spaces and are possibly better options than others that are available to them. Nonetheless, post-lockdown, there will be enhanced attention on hygiene, social distancing, cleanliness and effective crowd management in reducing the possibility of spread of the life-threatening virus along with keeping our visitors engaged towards the mall. Once the lockdown is lifted and we are back under green zone, we will resume our on-ground activities. In our view, marketing and awareness efforts will be crucial to get back business. Hence, we would continue to keep our focus on marketing.
What have been your biggest learnings from the Covid-19 experience so far? Do you think the experience has made you more resilient?
The biggest learning for us or for any business has been not to be impulsive, take each day as it comes, ensuring your workforce is safe and healthy, optimisation of resources, uninterrupted coordination while we continue to work from home, among other things. Also, it is an important reinforcement of our past learnings that is to leverage the organisation only to an optimum level, always keep plans ready for handling crises, look towards future expansion in a conservative and a long term view and to not to take business and its regular flow for granted. For any business, this is the best time to invest in the manpower, who are the drivers of every trade or organisation. If you are successful in taking care of the employees, post-lockdown there will be enhanced commitment towards the business, which will be the need of the hour in the times to come.
Even in the current scenario, we feel that the approach for any business must be five-fold: firstly, one must remain positive, secondly, generate liquidity by minimising debtors, divesting fixed assets and reducing working capital, thirdly, optimally use the available liquidity to feed the business cycle, fourthly, customise offerings and deliver the required “bang for the buck” for customers and lastly, as is the key for any success implement the plan and strategy effectively and if need be even ruthlessly.
What measures will you be taking once the mall will reopen?
The measures undertaken by the government is in our interest, to save our lives. Therefore, it becomes imperative to follow every guideline and Standard Operating Procedure unfailingly. To keep virus out of the premises, Viviana Mall has initiated several precautionary measures to ensure hygienic and uncontaminated public space for shoppers. Before and after the lockdown, we have initiated regular deep cleaning of the entire premises other than much-needed sanitization drive.
In addition, specific sanitation measures such as spraying disinfectant, social distancing employee training, sanitizing all inward stock, cleaning staff canteen, disinfecting staff changing room, deep cleaning of washroom, cleaning of escalators, elevators, parking zones, seats, fogging, mopping, etc. has now become a regular exercise.
We have already procured specialized equipment like steam cleaners and body temperature scanners as well as we have indigenously developed sanitizing equipment for area fumigation, goods received and for people to walk through. We are in the process of finalizing additional equipment requirements for use during the shopping centre trading. We would continue with deep cleaning and sanitization of all the areas in and around the mall before the mall is re-opened and thereon.
In addition to this, based on a wide variety of sources including the Shopping Centre Association of India (SCAI), we are developing detailed SOPs and guidelines for customers, retailers, F&B Operators and Food Court as well as for own staff and shopping centre management office. We have made this an integral part of our Standard Operating Procedure.
Once the mall re-opens a bundle of other preventive measures will be in place. People will find availability of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer dispensing machine, multiple auto rickshaw / taxi drop/ pick-up stands, better crowd management, promotion of contactless payment, and social distancing awareness video screening at common areas, apparels and goods tried by a customer being kept aside until disinfected, etc. are some of the those measures planned.
How do you foresee the retail changing post this pandemic?
Last one-and-a-half months has changed the shopping dynamics, this is primarily so due to the situation we are in, wherein we restricted to being indoors so as to be safe. The only options that can be availed is through home delivery from local shops and permitted e-commerce purchases. Once lockdown restrictions start easing out, people will have more confidence in venturing out to public spaces as they had been doing until the lockdown came into effect. In other words, the shift in shopping trends is temporary and short-term. In the medium and long-terms, the purchase patterns will get restored and in fact we are hoping that business will surpass past results. Similar sentiments get reflected in the findings from our survey conducted in the last couple of weeks. Our survey shows that close to 50% of the people will visit Viviana Mall during the initial 15 days of re-opening, which proves that the disruption is temporary and people would continue to visit malls for their future purchases, entertainment and experiences.