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Saturday, July 11, 2020

Future of consumption: What week one of unlock was like for retailers and service providers

Reports coming from across the border suggest normal life has resumed in China and there are signs people are out and about again. More likely though, retail therapy is a thing of the past.

Written by Leher Kala | New Delhi | Published: June 15, 2020 7:12:42 pm
unlock and lockdown, retailers, service providers, mall goers, mall visitors, shoppers, shopping, retail therapy, indian express, indian express news We have entered the age of the conscious—and terrified—consumer. (Source: Getty/Thinkstock)

There was a temporary air of jubilance last week, in anticipation of malls, marketplaces, salons and restaurants reopening in Delhi. Albeit briefly, we could fantasise that with lockdown over, life may start limping back to normal, Covid-19 notwithstanding. Alas. There could not have been a worse time to lift restrictions on public spaces in the Capital.  Every day, the newspapers are full of the horrific scenes outside hospitals. In this scenario, when cases are spiraling out of control, and when even the Supreme Court has pulled up the Delhi government for “deplorable healthcare conditions”, the mood isn’t exactly conducive for shopping. It’s hardly surprising then, that malls in Delhi saw just a quarter of pre-lockdown customers return.

However, according to an interesting report published in this newspaper on Saturday, this significantly lower number of shoppers bought a lot more; contributing to more than half the revenues they earned earlier. It appears people are buying extra and stocking up, so they can avoid coming back, an alarming trend that doesn’t bode well for the future of malls. There are going to be many other discernible shifts in the way we shop post-Covid. To begin with, malls, for the foreseeable future, are no longer venues to amble in, leisurely, window shopping and drinking coffee. The mindset has changed, people are interested in essential goods only. Plus, there is a reluctance to enter any place where people congregate without an assurance of a contactless shopping experience.

Madhulika Bhattacharya, 40, sommelier and proprietor of La Cave, a popular wine store that has been operating out of Select Citywalk for the last five years, noted the hesitation her clients had entering the mall. “Several people requested the wine be delivered to the car. It’s not something we encourage because we’d like people to enter the store and browse the selection,” says Bhattacharya and added, “But this is a unique situation.” Having said that, this is probably the safest time to go to the malls. A, because so few people are going, and B, most mall managements are going all out with industry grade sanitation stations to erase contamination fears. But while there are large hoardings across the city encouraging us to stay home, or the messaging we pick up from news TV and WhatsApp, of the dangers that lurk unseen among crowds, re-opening was always going to be fraught.

It doesn’t help that there are strong rumours doing the rounds that there might be another lockdown in the NCR region. (Satyendra Jain, Delhi’s health minister has vociferously denied it.) Bhattacharya describes her first week of being at the mall as surreal, akin to being on a sci-fi movie set. In her pre-Covid routine, she would exercise at Fitness First, the gym on the mall’s fifth floor, and then go to her store. “On the 8th when I went in to set up the store, everyone was looking at each other suspiciously,” says Bhattacharya. She describes, as an example, the awkwardness of shopping for make-up in Sephora, the popular multi brand cosmetic store.

Unlike our world of old, there are no longer “testers” to try a particular shade of lipstick. The store expects you to quickly make a purchase, and head out, fast. This goes against the grain for most women shopping for make-up; the whole idea is to test a variety of products, before settling on one or two. When I think of the number of times I’ve browsed sunglasses stores for instance, it takes me at least 20 minutes to make up my mind. Since shades are ridiculously expensive, the thought of getting pressured and hustled out, is frankly, unacceptable. Indeed, the new norms of shopping have to work themselves out. Meanwhile, the salon I frequent, opened for five days before shutting again. “My clients are not coming. If I keep it open, my landlord expects the rent,” says Hussain, proprietor of Salon Masters. For now, he is back to offering services at home. Reports coming from across the border suggest normal life has resumed in China and there are signs people are out and about again. More likely though, retail therapy is a thing of the past. We have entered the age of the conscious—and terrified—consumer.

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