Can opening shopping malls reboot the Indian economy?

Team Udayavani, May 13, 2020, 12:33 PM IST

Regarded through the ages as an economy where agriculture has served as its backbone, India is today compelled to reconcile with its nerve centre – the retail sector and the second-largest employer in the country. Employing over 46 million Indians, the paralysis of the sector on account of the Covid-19 pandemic, in turn, threatens the 250 million livelihoods that it sustains. If retail does not open, how does the common man avail his necessities? If retail does not open, what role does manufacturing serve? Simply, if retail does not open, how does a consumption economy like India survive?

While the unorganized sector has been working diligently to reduce consumer stress, are we overlooking an opportunity to leverage the organized retail sector?  Perhaps, shopping malls are the answer.

According to the Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI), the shopping centre industry provides livelihood to over 12,000,000 citizens, directly and indirectly. Not only is it vital to organised retail in driving key sub-sectors like Entertainment, Fashion, Electronics, FMCG, Services, Cinema and Food & Beverages, but it is also far better equipped to ensure that public health-related measures are prioritised and uniformly implemented.

A well-thought-out retail action plan in collaboration with the government could help accelerate the economy. Shopping malls enable diversity and safety in shopping by offering a range of options to consumers in a single, organized location. Shopping malls have the infrastructure, the space, and the staff to implement the requisite health and safety measures mandated by the government, in line with WHO guidelines and international best practices – it is far easier to monitor hygiene and social distancing at malls than anywhere else. Reducing the risk of exposure will inspire confidence in consumers in stepping out of their homes into a safe shopping environment. Re-opening shopping malls will also bring economic relief to the lakhs of blue-collared workers and the many businesses dependant on them for their livelihoods. Furthermore, as malls open and payments initiate, banking institutions could see relief to their stressed balance sheets.

According to Atul Ruia, Managing Director, Phoenix Malls, “The back end of the industry cannot function if the front end isn’t operating. We could implement measures in malls such as restricted operating hours (especially during non-peak hours); social distancing protocols; vacant seats between patrons in cinema halls; partitions between customers in restaurants; hand sanitizers and temperature checks at entrances; and masks for all retail staff. The tenants in malls are all organized retailers; they will abide by all such rules and best practices.”

Getting shopping malls back on track would make a huge impact during these testing times. Other data from SCAI indicates that there are 650 large shopping centres that contribute over INR 180,000 crore in sales with 1000 plus smaller shopping centres contributing another INR 50,000 crore to the sales of the organised retail sector. Re-opening these shopping malls sooner would not only mean a boost to the economy but also help build a life after COVID 19 by offering some sense of normalcy.

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