How prepared is SM Supermalls, the country’s largest mall developer, for the reopening of its malls, as the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) eases into the more relaxed general community quarantine (GCQ)?
Very ready, according to SM Supermalls president Steven Tan. “We’ve put the ECQ period to good use by developing mall safety and sanitation measures for implementation. We have produced and disseminated tool kits to guide both mall operations and our tenant partners,” he said in an interview with Lifestyle.
Customer safety begins with back-of-house and front-liner precautionary measures, Tan added. “All employees reporting to work need to undergo rigorous health inspections. We run temperature checks before the shift starts, and even at random times of the day. All employees and front-liners are fully kitted out with PPE (personal protective equipment) as needed, including face masks, face shields and gloves. We have encouraged our tenant partners to apply the same.”
SM, he said, wants to “over-deliver” on safety. Washrooms, handrails, common seating areas, escalators and elevators are sanitized every 30 minutes. “There are temperature checks and hand sanitizers in mall entrances and we will strictly deploy the ‘No Mask, No Entry’ policy.”
Mall-wide crowd control, or limiting the number of shoppers at a time, as it’s done in supermarkets, will be implemented, he added.
Of its 86 malls, it has reopened six, in the areas where the ECQ has transitioned to GCQ (SM City Cauayan, SM Center Tuguegarao Downtown, SM City Puerto Princesa, SM Savemore Market Tacloban, SM Center Ormoc and SM City General Santos).
“We take our cue from the LGUs (local government units) on which malls to reopen. Access remains for essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, banks, and restaurants for delivery and pick-up,” Tan said.
SM this week rolled out a YouTube video tribute to its employees on their role in the fight against the pandemic. Tessie Sy Coson, vice chair of SM Investments, oversaw the creative direction of the video, titled “Essentials” (“Serbisyo” in the Filipino version) and directed by Jun Reyes.
“Because of our size and scale, we are in a unique position to provide urgent, meaningful public service,” Tan said. “We kept our supermarkets, pharmacies and banks open to serve the people. We mobilized front-liner skeleton staffing, and provided support for our volunteers by way of PPE kits, meal allowances, premium pay and transportation assistance.
“Service is very important to us, and it is a value inculcated by our founder, Henry Sy Sr. . . . When COVID-19 (new coronavirus disease) hit, SM provided medical care assistance to hospitals and health-care front-liners through PPE, ICU-grade (intensive care unit) respirators and test kits. It is heartwarming to also note that employees volunteered to get this assistance moving through coordination, packing and distribution. There is very real pride in service and malasakit.”
SM has so far donated P270 million in the fight versus COVID-19.
No job losses
Even a business and financial powerhouse like SM—and perhaps even more so—has not been spared from the losses brought on by the pandemic. Tan, however, is optimistic about bouncing back. He sees the situation as a “temporary setback.”
Asked if there will be job losses in the SM organization, he said, “Employee welfare and tenant-partner business continuity are our top priorities. We want to keep all jobs intact in the organization, even if this means sacrifices and belt tightening. Our very first moves were to make sure employees continue to get their salaries and that rental is waived for our tenant partners. It takes partnership and trust to work toward a common goal, and that is to help each other recover.”
Tan, however, sees major shifts in the retail sector post-COVID-19.
While retail has hinged on community and experience, this has shifted to “online socialization” during the pandemic, he noted. Now, “experiences will be preceded by safety as the primary consideration,” he said.
“Some retail categories will bounce back faster than others. Food and beverage, health and personal care are among the top priority spends. For fashion, I see basic trends picking up where it left off, and shoppers will continue to look for quality and value . . . Retail will go through bold interventions and rapid acceleration to adapt to the new market environment. SM aims to be at the forefront of this evolution.”
For this, its PickUp@SM and Shop@SM click-and-collect services have seen more traction, so SM has ramped up its delivery fulfillment for tenant partners. “The goal is the eventual development of virtual malls to complement our physical spaces.”
Tan added, “Filipinos are cautiously optimistic, and the normalizing period will be anywhere from two to six months.”
Overall, Tan believes the mall-going culture in the Philippines will stay resilient. “It will never go away because Filipinos are sociable people and we continue to seek physical convergence points. It is the transactional nature that will improve.”