Retail on pandemic survival mode

Key ways retailers are taking to keep the business running.

NO CAPES NEEDED Heroic deeds now come from unlikely places. For this grocery store in Quezon City, there is no 'time out' for these heroes in providing service to the community (Photo by Noel Pabalate)

While they have been essential even on the days before the pandemic, department stores and supermarkets have a renewed importance to Filipinos during this lockdown. Even though many worry about losing supplies as the country’s capital undergoes strict quarantine protocols (just think of the panic buying that happened in the past months), retail establishments made sure that a household’s needs, even safety protections, are provided for and can be easily purchased.

With a surge of shoppers, one might think that, among all others, retail is an industry that thrives during the pandemic. Well, for the industry players, this is not true. As the pandemic is still shaking up everything, retailers find it hard to cope with the constant changes on top of worrying about keeping their shelves stocked and their workforce employed.

In a report by Fitch Solutions Country Risk & Industry Research, the Philippines’ consumer and retail sector was reported to be one of the sectors hardest hit by the month-long lockdown of Luzon island, where 50 percent of the nation’s population resides, back in March 2020, accounting for 73 percent of the country’s GDP.

SAFETY IS LUXURY Piles of health protective products even graced department store floors for customers' easy access (Photo by Noel Pabalate)

To avoid hitting rock bottom, retailers have been playing the game with new industry trends, hoping to keep afloat until the “new normal” turns into “back to normal” for the community. To help ensure the future of retail, Colliers International conducted a survey involving respondents from the Luzon and Visayas regions, to get insights on the public’s shopping preferences.

“Colliers believes that even if the government fully relaxes the lockdown imposed throughout Metro Manila, subsequent personal distancing protocols that will likely be implemented will reduce consumer traffic,” says Joey Bondoc, senior manager of Colliers International. “This will likely result in a slower absorption of retail space all over Metro Manila.”


With decreasing foot traffic in many retail establishments due to the community quarantine protocols, many consumers are opting to have their purchases delivered to their doorsteps. This eliminates time wasted on queues and reduces the risk of getting infected. 

In the early days of the quarantine period, retail workers and delivery personnel rose to the occasion and became modern-day heroes together with medical workers and other frontliners. In light of this, partnerships between retail establishments and logistics firms are not far from being devised and implemented.

One example is the joint project between delivery service Grab and Robinsons Supermarket as they launched GrabMart in April. “GrabMart is one of the few app-based grocery services that offers on-demand delivery, which means orders are expected to be delivered as early as 30 minutes or within a few hours,” says RJ Cabaluna, Grab country marketing head. “With the launch of GrabMart, we are hoping to further serve Filipinos during this trying time.”

Colliers’ survey notes that mall operators and retailers firming up partnerships with delivery companies is essential for their stores' survival, as these companies have modernized warehouses and efficient logistics. This will also ensure businesses' operations as the number of customers preferring online shopping continues to grow.


Online digital adaptation is not the only sure way to sustain the life of their enterprises. Retailers are also challenged to search for other ways to do business online. 

Ortigas Malls’ Live Studio is among the pioneers in bringing the mall experience online. Live Studio is a content creation hub located inside a mall for the use of all tenants, so that they can showcase different products and explain their features via a live feed. It is a fun and interactive way to learn about what mall tenants have to offer while keeping sellers and consumers safe and at a distance. Each studio is equipped with a complete camera and lighting setup for them to shoot about their newest products, and talk about the latest deals, making shopping in stores quick and efficient for the customer’s next visit. 


Gone are the days shoppers are the first to make the move in the buying process. Now more than ever, client engagement plays an important role in their purchasing attitude, and this happens by meeting the shoppers where they are.

Apart from establishing an e-commerce site, it is important for retailers to build a strong social media presence with a brand voice that customers will resonate with.

Colliers also recommends that retailers, especially higher-end brands, have to be more innovative to stay at the top of consumers’ minds. This may be in the form of home deliveries or personal shoppers, just like SSI Group’s The Specialist. 

The Specialist has been created by the SSI Group to help facilitate and assist customers with their shopping needs via direct digital communication with consumers, and at-home delivery or curbside pick-up. The At Home concierge service allows customers to experience luxury shopping online like they used to in-store.