When malls open next week, it’s unlikely that apparel and lifestyle retailers will offer discounts – even after being saddled with unsold inventory – for fear that rebates could lead to a surge in footfalls and jeopardise social distancing norms.
“We expect only serious shoppers to visit malls, discounts could attract a larger set of consumer base. Overcrowding is the last thing we want from a safety standpoint,” said J Suresh, chief executive officer at Arvind Fashions, which manages over two dozen brands including Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Arrow.
While malls in the country can open from June 8, top markets including New Delhi, Gurgaon and Mumbai have not allowed them to start.
The opening of top malls will coincide with the end-of-season sales that typically start after mid-June. Over the past few weeks, retailers and companies have offered discounts sporadically, mainly restricting them to online.
Puma India country head Abhishek Ganguly said end-of-season sales are planned in the first week of July, by when all malls should open.
“It will be a challenge considering the social distance norms and safety measures we have to follow, but we will run it following all norms. There could be queues outside stores when sales start,” Ganguly said.
As per government guidelines, shops must ensure that customers keep at least six feet away from others and that not more than five shoppers are allowed in at one time.
“This is not the time to be greedy. The first priority will be to provide a safe and comfortable shopping experience for customers, instead of discounting,” said Rakesh Biyani, managing director at Future Retail.
However, retailers said the norms for the number of shoppers should be based on store size. Large department stores can accommodate more shoppers while still ensuring strict social distancing.
A Hennes & Mauritz spokesperson said its stores range in size from 15,000 to 43,000 square feet and the number of shoppers should be proportionately determined.
“Brands should be allowed to monitor the number of customers in the store as per the size of the store and ensure social distance norms are being followed,” added the spokesperson.
While most mall operators are readying protocols for consumer safety including setting up pandemic response teams and isolation centres, they cannot influence discounting policies by tenant brands.
“Retailers are free to offer discounts but we would suggest they call their loyal customers at a pre-decided time so that they don’t have to wait outside the malls or shops. Even couples will be advised to maintain social distancing,” said Pushpa Bector, executive director of DLF Shopping Malls