“I have run out of shoes for work,” said a resident doctor in his 20s, wearing flip flops, who was at the Ahmedabad One mall — city’s largest mall — the day it reopened on Monday. Accompanied by his batchmate, the senior resident doctor of the surgery department fo the Civil Hospital at Asarwa, the largest Covid treatment facility in the state, was at the mall early in the day.
“During all these months working continuously, there was no possibility of buying a new pair of shoes for myself. I had to do with slippers and came here as soon as the malls opened today,” the resident doctor said looking for stores among the half that were opened.
At malls that The Indian Express visited in Ahmedabad and Vadodara, shoppers were few and rules, many — it was compulsory download the Arogya Setu App before entering as well as sanitising hands, wearing masks, apart from other protocols that individual stores followed. All the seats where people would hang out were removed from the Ahmedabad One mall and there were foot markers everywhere to maintain social distancing. Health wardens were deployed on each floor as CCTV cameras monitored movement of shoppers.
A young couple, engaged to be married in December went from one retail chain to another looking for T-shirts. “He has run out of clothes instead of me, for the first time,” Jahnvi Soni said beaming at her fiancé, Aditya Patel.
“Due to lockdown, I am not fitting into my clothes anymore,” said Aditya. The couple works at a construction company and says since working from home does not apply to them, they are required to have a good number of formals.
“Food courts and restaurants seating has been reduced while groups more than six will be discouraged… Also, contactless ordering and payment systems are implemented. All employees will be screened before entering the mall and guards will ensure 6 feet distance between two persons,” said Akashdeep Singh Noul, centre director at Ahmedabad One Mall. Almost all the stores have reduced its staff strength.
A make-up products chain has done away with trials and testings. Customers were not allowed inside and products were handed out at the entrance.
“It is difficult to buy a new beauty product without testing…,” said Saloni Patel who was buying face masks.
“For the time being trials or products are banned. We only provide the particular product asked by the customer at the entrance,” a salesman at the store said.
Staffer at a clothing line chain said that though trials are not banned, they ensure that the dress once tried comes again on the sales counter only 24 hours after it is sanitised. Separate boxes are placed at the trial rooms.
Another store at the mall ensures that once the staff has availed a toilet or other break resumes work only after 30 minutes. “He would return, sanitise and sit at the back of the store for at least 30 minutes before coming back to sales,” said the store manager adding that staff has been asked not to avail public transport to reach for work.
Vadodara’s Inorbit mall in Gorwa area sported a “We missed you” banner at the entrance. However, customers were down to 30 per cent.
“My mother’s birthday is comimg and we came to buy her a dress. But we are scared of trying the dress, or even touching it. We want things to normalise… The malls have been following strict rules but at the end of the day, it is also about us as individuals, how much of safety protocols we follow,” said one of the customers, Rutvij Panchal.
Speaking on the changed customer behaviour, Prof Mini Mathur, an associate professor of marketing who teaches retail at MICA, Ahmedabad, said that at present, people are not in the right frame of mind to go shopping.
“Shopping in malls is not just sourcing essentials but also about the experience. How much a shopaholic I might be but this is not the right time, until things settle down… people are not in right frame of mind to go shopping. Shopping would be on the last on anybody’s mind. People are scared… People are not in a comfortable zone as the environment is scary, so shopping would take at least 8-12 months to be normalised,” Mathur said.
She said that even for essentials they have moved on to other online sources. “People who did not shop online are now shopping even for essentials online… Also, from a retailers perspective they need to create the trust among customers about hygiene and sanitisation…”
The mall reopened with around 30% of the stores continuing to remain shut due to multiple reasons while the footfall increased towards the evening. “Many stores remained closed as per their individual prerogative. Some have cited lack of new stock, staff members, among other reasons,” said Agnelo Fernandes, Centre Head at Inorbit mall in Vadodara. The mall opened with a capacity of 33% of its staff members maintaining the same at every individual store as well.
To ensure social distancing norms, only one person is allowed per 75 sq ft area with specific markers on the floor that read, “Find your space and stick to it”. The entire premise is cleaned and disinfected every one hour. They have also made downloading the Arogya Setu App mandatory where a customer is only allowed inside if they are “safe” according to the app as per the guidelines issued.
A leading department store insisted on downloading its own online shopping app and marking oneself safe to ensure that the customer is healthy. Big Bazaar maintained a log of all the incoming customers, asking them to write their names, contact details and addresses after sanitising theri hands. Another leading clothes brand store displayed steps to be taken by the customers at the entrance of the store.
A small isolation chamber with a separate washroom has also been created outside the Inorbit mall for customers who feel unwell. “This is to ensure the safety of the customer as well as other customers. If any customer is found sick while shopping, we will shift him/her to the chamber and inform the health authorities,” Fernandes added.
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