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Malls frame new retail rites before June restart

Mall owners have readied a new standard operating procedure (SOP) with a raft of health-safety measures as they eye a potential reopening date in June.
The precautions necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic are expected to reshape the shopping experience at such establishments. For instance, one won’t be able to simply walk in without a temperature check. Masks will be mandatory for both shoppers and store attendants, centralised air-conditioning will be set at a higher temperature than before, and you may be advised to touch only those products which you seriously intend to buy. Also, only a certain number of people may be allowed on the premises at a time to prevent crowding.

Mall operators intend to strictly enforce the SOP, so they don’t run afoul of health authorities and face closure.
While many businesses and sectors were allowed to resume operations in the lockdown relaxations announced earlier this month, malls and cinema halls have been asked to stay shut. In anticipation of a favourable decision, mall owners have begun preparations to welcome shoppers back.
“We are all set for the new normal and will offer shoppers a different experience. We will make malls the safest place by implementing our SOP,” said Amitabh Taneja, chairman and founder-director of Shopping Centres Association of India (SCAI). “Hopefully, the central government will give us permission to open from June 1 since the sector contributes about 10% to the country’s GDP, the second highest after agriculture.”
The association has prepared the SOP for reopening in consultation with domain experts, industry captains and representatives of consumer bodies. There are category-wise rules for shoppers and store owners. “Each shop will have a different protocol. For instance, there is a trial requirement at an apparel shop and the protocol prepared by us encourages customers to touch and try fabrics only if they intend to make a purchase. The shopkeepers must ensure that the trial room is disinfected after use,” said Kumara Rajagopalan, chief executive officer of the Retailers Association of India (RAI). “In footwear stores, single-use disposable socks will be given to customers.”
Under the general plan for restarting business, only 50 per cent of parking space will be operational in the first phase. A limited number of people will be allowed in the washroom at a time. Transparent plexiglass sheets will be installed at the entrance and exit. Everyone visiting the premises will be subjected temperature screening.

As air-conditioning is a major concern, the system in malls will be modified in accordance with the standards laid down by the central works department. The temperature will be maintained in the range of 24-30 degrees with relative humidity in the range of 40-70 per cent.
“The reality is that the coronavirus is here to stay. We are ready with plans to protect shoppers and staff members of retail outlets. Let us open the shop,” said Suresh Singaravelu, executive director (retail), Prestige Group, which runs five malls in Bengaluru, including UB City.

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