Shopaholics are yet to return on the scene but purposeful shopper with specific list in hand have started arriving in malls and big stores raising some optimism that if not by the end of this year, at least by March next year consumer sentiments would help push up businesses.
As lockdown lifted in phases, many stores including shopping malls have started reopening their shutters in June and July. But the pickup in business in most of the cases was witnessed only in September, particularly in areas which were considered COVID-19 hotspots or vulnerable locations.
Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India (RAI) says, “Currently many retailers are looking ahead with some cautious optimism. Wherever they are able to sustain given the current status of businesses now and have got better deal on rentals, they are optimistic of being in a much better position by the end of the festive season or by the end of the fiscal year in March.”
With retail business since September reaching 60-70 per cent levels in most cases, hopes for a better business during the festive season till December end has revived. What has raised the optimism is higher conversion of footfall into purchasers and arrival of more purposeful customers, who account for 35 per cent of buyers, with specific shopping list in mind.
The growth of online business, though miniscule compared to store shopping, is posing a rising challenge leading even stores to register online presence as this helps them firm up customers choice based on price comparison ahead of a mall or store visit.
Yogeshwar Sharma, CEO and Executive director, Select City mall in South Delhi, says that June went very badly with hardly 3000 footfalls, mostly workers, as against 30,000 footfalls on working days. But now the footfalls on working days have risen to around 17,000 while on weekends the arrivals are between 25,000 to 27,000 as against 45,000 to 50,000 during pre COVID weekends.
Though the footfalls to Select City have risen in the last few weeks, the sales are still to normalize particularly in the case of top brands and formal clothing, which are so far witnessing the lowest demand. In the mid-segment category of products, there is more demand with sales of white goods, electronics, beauty products, affordable range of clothing finding most demand. After months of indoor living, there has been a surge in demand for sports goods.
Fear of getting COVID is still ensuring a big demand for home delivery of food. Even restaurants are seeing more take away orders from those who used to prefer sit-down dining. Though cinemas are expected to reopen from October 15, there are many grey areas, says mall owners. The biggest concern is whether people would be willing to give up the safety of home entertainment options which tided over the lockdown period. This is more so as there is expected to be some shortfall in the line-up of new films.
RAI study has revealed that all the items essential for work from home like consumer durables, kitchen items and IT products are doing extremely well. It is interesting how people are discovering places in their houses which they were unaware of.
Pushpa Bector, Executive Director, DLF Retail, says the pandemic has largely affected shopping habits with safety now taking over as a new criterion over price range, variety and convenience as compared to last year. “Purpose has moved to the forefront and customers today want to buy from establishments and brands who stand for something bigger than profits. During lockdown we saw consumers shift towards essential items but with government cautious step-wise de-escalation of the lockdown in Delhi/NCR, we witnessed a substantial change in the consumer shopping pattern,” says Bector, who manages all the DLF brand malls.
Bector says the average footfall in the food court area on a daily basis at DLF Promenade is 40% and DLF CyberHub it is 30% of the mall footfall. Both DLF CyberHub & DLF Promenade have witnessed improvements in orders, week by week. After the directive from the government on opening bars, there has been an increase in our footfalls by 50%, says Bector.
All malls are trying to revive business and lure shoppers by following stringent hygiene protocols and social distancing norms. They are banking on the festive season from Dussehra to see a resumption in sales closer to the pre-Covid levels.