SHOPPING traffic has increased since August of this year; now shoppers have returned to all of the major shopping malls across the country.
But sales have generally not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels; it is observed that shoppers still love physical stores while retailers, having learned of the pandemic, move on to greater digitalization.
On weekends, large malls are swarming with shoppers and diners, while traffic jams in mall parking lots are back.
Since interstate travel was allowed in mid-October, retail businesses that depended on tourists have rebounded.
“It’s not only in the Klang Valley, but also in Langkawi, Georgetown, Ipoh, Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands, Pangkor Island, Desaru Coast and Melaka,” said Tan Hai Hsin, Managing Director of Retail Group Malaysia.
Almost all retail-related businesses have been allowed to open, with the exception of nightlife entertainment venues.
IOI Mall Puchong has experienced a positive recovery, returning to its normal capacity, both weekdays and weekends.
Throughout the pandemic, the mall has remained a must-see destination for the community that resides around it, for their daily essentials.
“The fastest sector to rebound is food and beverage (F&B), followed closely by others, notably fashion and clothing.
“Our entertainment business has all started, with approximately 60% to 70% capacity, due to adherence to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) which include social distancing,” said Complex – IOI Mall, General Manager Dylan Chan.
Retail sales in Malaysia are expected to increase in December 2021 and January 2022 due to two major festive events – Christmas and Chinese New Year (CNY).
“For the fourth quarter of 2021, our estimated growth rate is 12.7% compared to the same period a year ago,” Tan said.
“No major impact is expected on the retail trade due to the limit on large gatherings at Christmas and CNY. “
However, online retail shopping will not replace physical stores once the pandemic is over; the current observation is that shoppers are back in physical stores and diners are congregating in cafes and restaurants.
Nonetheless, the Covid-19 pandemic has forced many retailers to pay attention to further digitalization of their businesses. where online shopping has become another major distribution channel.
Malaysian retailers in the new normal will invest more in digital infrastructure that allows consumers to easily purchase goods and services in multiple formats.
Overall, most retailers are happy to have been allowed to open their doors.
However, sales have not returned to pre-pandemic levels due to:
> Limiting the capacity of in-store buyers in a retail store and controlling the number of seats in an F&B outlet.
> For retail stores, time spent in store is limited. For F&B outlets, restrictions on seating arrangements discourage social gatherings.
> Many families are still hesitant to bring their young children and the elderly to shopping centers.
> Today there are still many F&B outlets in malls and stores that do not allow dinner.
For example, some kiosks, stalls, and outlets are finding that they can survive on take out and delivery.
These include ice cream parlors, bakeries, bubble tea shops, breakfast bars and cafes as well as dessert cafes.
> In recent closures, many retail and food service businesses have laid off their workers to cut costs and will take time to recruit and train new workers.
> The economy is still recovering, with net wages still below pre-pandemic levels.
With the support of local authorities, IOI Mall Puchong is looking to organize more community and family activities such as educational workshops and social events.
These include family picnics, arts and crafts activities, cooking demonstrations, and classes.
“A shopping center is a place of social and economic relations, and remains a hospital and community space,” said Chan, referring to all shopping centers under the brand IOI – IOI City Mall Putrajaya, IOI Mall Kulai in Johor, IOI Mall Puchong and the soon to be opened IOI Mall Phase II in 2022.
Malaysian retailers need indirect help from the government to stay alive, Tan said.
> More budget allocation for proactive action plans to control the spread of Covid-19, thus avoiding further containment; Malaysian non-essential retailers cannot afford another forced closure of physical stores.
> All retailers with physical stores should be allowed to remain open with strict SOPs in the event of a new lockdown; The experience of the past one and a half years indicates that online shopping, withdrawals, take out and delivery are not enough to keep F&B retailers and outlets alive.
> Allowing foreign tourists to visit Malaysia in stages is essential for retailers who depended on tourists; they are located in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Johor Baru, Melaka, Penang and Kota Kinabalu.
> Proactive and concrete plans to stimulate the economy in 2022; with more dynamic economic activities, there will be more jobs and a higher net salary, which will allow consumers to spend more willingly on goods and services.
Overall, the situation is now much better than during the long period of lockdowns recently.
We do, however, need to comply with all SOPs in place as there is now a new variant of Covid-19 to deal with.
Yap Leng Kuen is a former StarBiz editor. The opinions expressed here are those of the author.