Shopping Malls and Christmas Under the COVID Cloud

Retail

AkosHorvath / Shutterstock.com

The coronavirus found everyone unprepared at the beginning of this year, and it took its toll especially hard on business where a large number of people are gathered. Cinemas were closed indefinitely, pubs and restaurants had opening hours curtailed or were closed. But how will COVID health measures affect Christmas shopping?

Photo by AkosHorvath / Shutterstock.com

We spoke to Ernő Koncz, marketing and communications director of Gránit Pólus Management Zrt. (the owner and manager of the Westend Shopping Center) and Attila Madler, asset management director of CPI Property Group (responsible for a number of malls, including the Pólus Center and Campona) about how they are preparing for this’s year’s peak shopping period, overshadowed as it is by the pandemic.

First and foremost, security measures are the most important, as shopping center management try to prevent the spread of the virus.

According to Madler, “Shopping malls will apply additional safety measures to assure that people can have a safe shopping experience. Christmas is normally the peak season in retail, thus it is a big challenge to ensure social distancing and hygienic measures.”

Koncz agrees, but tells the Budapest Business Journal that shoppers themselves are helping in the fight against COVID.

“We find that people are also much more aware and cautious about the epidemic. They come to us visibly planned, purposefully, so it does not happen that ‘dangerous’ masses collide,” he says.

According to Koncz, this is due to the security measures adopted by the mall and the shops operating there, in cooperation with the public’s discipline and cooperation. There has also been a decline in the number of visitors normal for this pre-Advent period, partly because, among other things, the home office work schedule has taken effect in surrounding office buildings, he believes

“We will also have additional security to ensure social distancing and improved communication to draw attention to COVID safety measures. We will draw the attention of retailers to obey the pandemic regulations and ask them to make the shopping as convenient as possible for customers,” Madler adds.

Every Effort

According to Koncz, every effort will be taken to provide safe conditions for visitors, as well as the people who work at the malls. Advanced disinfection cleaning and fresh air are essential as well. Hand disinfection stations at multiple points will be in place in the building and in the washrooms as well.

“Most of our stores also have hand sanitizers available and you can buy disposable or textile masks,” he explains.

Special attention is also paid to customer information: the attention of visitors is constantly called to the provisions in force, be it through posters, digital displays, floor stickers or the in-house radio station. In order to avoid afternoon peaks, GRÁNIT PÓLUS is taking action to help balance traffic within a given day.

For example, Westend offers free parking and extra discounts to those arriving in the morning. In parallel with the mandatory shortening of the opening hours, the management is encouraging stores to open earlier if they can.

Since it is currently only possible to order takeaway meals from the restaurants, food court furniture has been removed for safety reasons, and to dissuade crowds from gathering.

Safety measures, or not, it seems likely that Christmas income may be lower than expected this year

“Normally retailers make up to 30% of their annual turnover during the Christmas season,” told Madler says. “The shopping restrictions of recent days are challenging this target, thus now the balance of the Christmas period is unpredictable.”

Changing Trends

The trends between ordering online and buying in malls have also changed a lot. “COVID has definitely accelerated the increase in the share of online shopping,” Madler accepts.

“However, people tend to buy goods of higher value [at Christmas], which they prefer to do personally and, more important, immediately; thus we expect that the online shopping share will not increase during the Christmas period.

“Nevertheless, people are using the stores at shopping centers as pick up points for goods ordered online, thus a significant number of visitors are going to visit the centers only to collect their goods.”

One interesting development has been noted in the case of the PlayStation 5, released about a week ago, which manufacturer Sony has decided can only be ordered online, and is not even available instore. Such conscious behavior from a distributor is not, however, customary, Madler says.

“It is not typical that a retailer, who has an offline presence as well, sells its goods only online. Offline shopping is still very strong, and in many cases, the personal experience creates customers’ liability. This is not possible only with online shopping.”

Preferences have also changed somewhat for products: the desire to buy has decreased for some and increased for others.

“In general we expect that people will not want to buy entertainment/experience as a gift so much, rather they are going to look for goods with which they can extend their amusement at home, like video games, computers/tablets, books, etc. Obviously, often this is the season of investment into high-value household items as well, which will not change,” Madler says.

This article was first published in the Budapest Business Journal print issue of November 27, 2020.

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