SM not optimistic of full recovery by Dec.

Published July 10, 2020, 10:00 PM

by Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat

SM, the country’s largest mall chain, expects a revival of foot traffic by December this year, but not at the pre-COVID level.

According to SM Supermalls President Steven T. Tan, foot traffic is gradually returning to the malls, but unless a vaccine is found he did not expect that the highly commercialized Christmas season could draw in the same crowd as it did in the previous December holiday seasons.

“We see the revival by December of around 70-80 percent of the pre-COVID foot traffic, but if a vaccine is available by then then we can hit or even surpass that,” said Tan during a webinar hosted by the American Chamber and Industry of the Philippines on Redefining Retail Landscape.

According to Tan, foot traffic has improved to 50-60 percent as of last weekend from the 20 percent when the malls reopened last May 16. “If this up uptick continues, we can hit 80-70 percent by end of year going of the pre-COVID period,” he said.

Once the BER months come in, people will also start warming up. “We are optimistic but it needs hard work and continued strict safety protocols,” he added noting that malls in the provinces are accelerating faster than Metro Manila.

Majority or 60-70 percent of SM Mall tenants are already back. Those that remained closed are the ones not allowed like spas, yoga centers and gym.

Despite the difficulties, Tan said that businesses will try their best to go back and operate because these are investments. Most of all, he said, Filipinos are very caring individuals so business owners are also thinking of their employees on how they could continue to provide employment.

To survive, Tan urged businesses to reposition themselves to become part of essential sector and thereby stay relevant during this pandemic. He cited the case of Uniqlo for having stayed relevant because they cater to the more essential lifewear rather those trendy fashion brands.

He also stressed the need for businesses to repurpose assets, space and people to make their operations more productive and contribute to the revenue stream.

In addition, business must also be readily available to customers citing that the pandemic has accelerated the need for the retail sector to be omni-channel to make their products more accessible.

For instance, SM has created the biggest Viber community so far to reach out to more people. They offer personal shoppers, pick-ups and deliveries. Those who want to order fresh vegetables from their SM Baguio supermarket can pick it up at the nearest SM mall. The number one challenge during this pandemic is bringing back the confidence among consumers, he said. Once the confidence is back with the implementation of safety and health measures and hopefully a vaccine is found, there will be improvements in the spending pattern among shoppers.