The Near-Future of Our Malls: The New Abnormal
As ECQ transforms to GCQ, what can we expect when our malls reopen?
Anyone who thinks that life, post-coronavirus ECQ, is just a matter of pressing a ‘reset’ button is in for a rude awakening. Life under GCQ and beyond, will see drastic shifts in human behavior and social interaction. With malls such a permanent fixture of our urban landscape, what can we anticipate when these malls reopen?
Steven Tan, President of SM Supermalls, rose to this position in February of this year, and will now usher us into the post-coronavirus mall experience—one that I refer to, half in jest, as the New Abnormal. Steven oversees the operations of 74 SM Malls all over our archipelago; and as early as now, it’s safe to say that the new ones that were set to open will have to be postponed to later in the year, or to 2021, depending on the situation.
Under the ECQ, when essential services were at a premium, the SM Malls immediately responded. Supermarkets, pharmacies, and banks were kept open; with some restaurants and food outlets offering takeout and delivery service. They also continued their Click and Collect Pick Up@SM program, and the Shop@SM online delivery.
There’s a Viber Community, the Take Out and Delivery at SM group, where information on available restaurants, with contact numbers, delivery options (Angkas, Move it, Grocers, my Kuya, Joy Ride, and Lalafood are among SM’s delivery partners), and special promos, are constantly updated. In Metro Manila, there’s a dedicated mall service, SM Personal Shopper, partnered with Angkas; and it’s currently available at SM Aura—soon to be rolled out at SM Mall of Asia, and other key SM Malls in the NCR. There’s a SM Drive Thru Service which allows customers to buy and pick up orders without leaving their vehicles.
In preparation for the GCQ, when everyone’s safety and well-being inside the malls will hinge on effective social distancing and stringent sanitation measures, toolkits were produced to guide the malls, tenant partners, and stakeholders.
As Steven remarked, “We are aware of how shopping behavior has drastically changed over the course of just a few weeks because of the ECQ. At this moment, we are moving some of our services to digital as that’s where the market is heading. Our primary priority at this time is the safety of our customers.”
“We are expecting to see major changes in the retail landscape after this whole pandemic. For many years, we have relied heavily on on-ground experiences. Due to this global pandemic, we had to reassess our strategy, given that our customers are now transitioning to online socialization, and experiences will now be associated with a ‘safety first’ mentality. Filipinos are cautiously optimistic, and the normalizing period will be anywhere from 2 to 6 months.”
“We think that malling in the Philippines will still thrive. What we are going to restructure and improve is the way we serve our shoppers. Existing programs that involve delivery and takeout services have gotten more traction since the lockdown, and we realized the need to develop virtual malls that complement our physical spaces.”
In early May, in coordination with the respective LGU’s, SM reopened some of their malls in areas that already transitioned to GCQ—SM City Cagayan, SM Center Tuguegarao, SM City Puerto Princesa, SM SaveMore Market Tacloban, SM Center Ormoc, and SM City General Santos.
But of course, the big test will come when GCQ will be declared all over Metro Manila, and when malls here will be allowed to resume business. At that point, it will be inevitable that people, relieved that the enhanced lockdown is over, will want to troop to the malls in numbers. The social distancing, the control of these numbers, the spatial setting for restaurant patrons and shoppers, will all be crucial in ensuring a second COVID-19 spike does not occur. It’s reassuring to know that SM has been preparing for this, with strict protocols for their employees and front liners.
When the malls do reopen, to think that this will be anything normal, whether new or old, is to ignore the realities of what cities all over the world are now facing. In countries such as South Korea and Germany, where restrictions were lifted over the second weekend of May, COVID-19 cases suddenly rose, and modified restrictions had to be reinstated. Until a successful and accessible vaccine is developed, Life just won’t be the same as pre-coronavirus days. It’s a New Abnormal that we‘ll all have to deal with.
With cautious but steely optimism, Steven said: “Challenges only bring Opportunities. I believe that the current challenges of businesses across industries is only a temporary setback. If SM is any indication—Filipinos are resilient, hard workers. We have gone through many hurdles, and I’m sure we’ll get through this, as well.” Amen!
SM Workplace Measures to Ensure Health & Safety of Employees:
1) Rapid Serological Test (RST) will be administered to all employees and front liners. This is the Antibody Rapid Test.
2) Cloth Face masks were provided before, and another batch will be provided to all employees.
3) Face Shields will be provided to front liners.
4) Temperature check at Office/Branch entrances.
5) Alcohol dispensers at entrances.
6) Daily health symptoms check will be done via SM Life app for employees.
7) Activity and location logos will be done daily via SM Life app for employees to make Contact Tracing easier.
8) Continuous Internal Communication for staying healthy, and exercising preventive measures.
9) Strictly enforcing safe distancing among employees’ workspaces.
10) Providing safety boosters, such as pocket-sized alcohol, and 1 month supply of Vitamin C.
Lead photo from SM Supermalls