Playbook to Safely Reopen Shopping Malls

Everything you need to know in one document with research from regulatory bodies, industry groups, and mall operators from around the globe.

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As social distancing and quarantine measures help put the brakes to the spread of COVID-19, shopping malls around the world are being given the green light to reopen—albeit with restrictions. Our team has researched guidelines from a number of governments, industry associations, and leading shopping centre chains and have put together a single, consolidated document. This playbook summarizes best practices to ensure the safety of customers and employees in the middle of this pandemic.

All guidelines are sourced from a number of resources and links to these are included in the document. Keep in mind, not everything may apply to the unique situation of your business or geographical region.

In this playbook, you’ll learn about:

  1. Preparing a shopping mall for a reopening
  2. Ensuring the safety of shoppers and employees
  3. Practices currently being used in different parts of the world

Table of contents:

  1. Shopper Safety
  2. Employee Safety
  3. Mall Safety
  4. Effective Communication
  5. Emergency Protocols
  6. Leadership Principles
  7. The World at a Glance

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Shopper Safety:

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A shopping mall contributes significantly to community well-being by providing a safe and friendly place for shoppers to experience a sense of community. In the times of the pandemic, it is even more important for malls to not only meet safety guidelines, but also to innovate and lead the changes to reassure shopper confidence.

Some practices that have been employed:

  • Providing shoppers at entrances with a welcome kit containing a disposable mask and a hand sanitizer to keep themselves protected during the stay
  • Spraying hand sanitizer on shoppers’ hands upon entry and exit from the mall
  • Adding a disinfectant mist at entrances
  • Facilitating and encouraging social distancing with a minimum distance of 2m
  • Setting up signage reminders of social distancing and precautions
  • Having separate entry and exit points for mall, stores, food courts, and washrooms
  • Enforce queuing at all entrance and exit points
  • Using smart temperature sensors to identify and restrict entry to those with elevated temperature
  • Restriction or limitation of large groups visiting the mall

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A sense of security begins as shoppers enter the mall. Proper entrance controls like queuing, hand sanitizers, and temperature checks are examples of precautions shopping centres have established. Take for example, the upscale shopping mall Siam Paragon in Bangkok where each shopper must pass through a disinfectant mist at every entrance.

The principles of social distancing are now ubiquitous. But as shoppers set foot inside the mall, for the first time after the pandemic, reminder signages help reenforce this behaviour inside the mall as well.

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Now more than ever, the flow inside a shopping mall needs a major overhaul. Mall operators have to rethink and reinvent the flow of foot traffic while keeping distancing principles satisfied—at least for the time being. Removing furniture to create more space or resetting seating areas helps facilitate social distancing guidelines. Floor lane markings are a good way to prevent shoppers moving in one direction from encountering shoppers moving in the opposite direction. Separate entry and exit points to the mall, stores, and publicly accessible areas like washrooms and lifts are also helpful to encourage social distancing.

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Helpful external articles:

Employee Safety:

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Providing employees with the right tools and procedures empowers them to keep services functioning while still staying safe. These include daily health screening of employees at the start of the shift, providing new masks and gloves, and additional equipment like glass visors for those who need it. Creating communication channels to keep all employees in the loop of ongoing communication is essential. 360 feedback provides the opportunity to learn about the performance of the current systems and also facilitates employees to voice their concerns.

Some practices that have been employed:

  • Health screenings of employees
  • Providing personal protection equipment like gloves and masks at the start of the shift
  • Glass visors can be provided to employees that are at higher risk (e.g. security guards at entrances/exit points, cashiers, mall customer service desk, etc.)
  • Keeping multiple checkout lines to avoid overcrowding
  • Creating real-time communication channels for employees to keep everyone in the loop
  • Having clear procedures on interaction with customers and escalation channels
  • Promoting a flexible sick leave policy and maintaining employee privacy

Helpful external article:

Mall Safety:                                                                     

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Reopening malls is generally guided by local authorities which enforce rules and regulations deemed best for the region. However, most regions echo the same set of regulations which covers entrance controls, social distancing, limiting occupancy, and deep cleaning.

Some practices that have been employed:

  • Frequent cleaning and disinfecting of regularly used objects and hard surfaces (e.g. payment registers, hand-rails, bathroom door handles, shelves, shopping carts, counters, benches, food-court tables, staff-rooms, etc.)
  • Increasing mall operating hours to scatter shopper visit times
  • Keeping occupancy light in corridors, stores, and parking
  • Clear and separate lane markings to avoid traffic in both directions
  • Minimum passengers on elevators and escalators
  • Signage that displays the current occupancy permitted at the mall and for each store
  • Encourage contactless customer service and payments
  • Place disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizers at store entrances
  • Disinfectant spraying service on shopping bags before leaving
  • Discouraging discounts and large sales that may attract a lot of visitors
  • Closing or restricting changing rooms, entertainment areas, and free samples handouts
  • Facilitating curbside pickup for shoppers

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The extent of how each objective is implemented varies from region to region. In the Middle East, for example, the government has mandated mall operators to limit occupancy to 30% or less whereas for American counterparts, such limits are much higher. Similarly, while some malls make it compulsory for visitors and employees to wear masks at all times, others only make it compulsory for their employees. The list goes on, with differences in the determination of occupancy thresholds, the number of hand sanitizers needed per area, and the extension or reduction of mall hours. The bottom line is that though all principles are right in their view, the successful execution of the principles will be of utmost importance.

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Failure to meet an objective at any time can lead to major problems. Things like measuring occupancy, maintaining critical thresholds, ensuring placements, timely replacements of sanitization, and monitoring social distancing are critical. With regards to measuring occupancy, security at entrances and exits can keep a manual count or use a digital counter like this. For large shopping malls and for the perfect ease of mind an automated solution based on WiFi can monitor occupancy and send timely alerts.

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Helpful external articles:

Effective Communication:

It is crucial to maintain open communication with your shoppers and employees during these times. Timely messages that show compassion and educate shoppers towards the new normal will help relationships survive the crisis. Additionally, this is the right time for businesses to strengthen their digital channels or build new ones if they currently have none. It is also important to have proper Customer Data Platform (CDP) to better manage communications and make sure the right message reaches the right audience. If your business needs support building a CDP and defining your communication strategy, Aislelabs can help.

Consider the following guidelines when preparing your messaging for customers and employees:

With Shoppers:

  • Headlines/Subject Lines that directly address the current situation
  • Specific actions taken by your organization
  • Deliver only relevant information to shoppers
  • Timely and clear messaging that your audience can understand
  • New working hours and communicating those changes ahead of time

Recommended channels:

  • Website for formal communication and FAQs
  • Social media
  • Email
  • For urgent messaging: email and text distribution lists
  • Google My Business listings for updated open hours
  • Campaign Tracking Solutions (Aislelabs can help with this)

With Employees:

Recommended Channels:

  • Email
  • Internal messaging or chat
  • Physical signage in the office

Helpful external articles:

Emergency Protocols:

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The pandemic has had an impact on all aspects mall operations including emergency protocols. Procedures such as the identification of risks, the dissemination of information, and evacuation procedures should be further tested to function in a pandemic environment. New risks include quarantine management and single evacuation outlets.

Some of the protocols that need to be revisited are:

  • Emergency response procedures
  • Notification, warning, and communications procedures
  • Individual roles and responsibilities
  • Emergency shutdown and evacuation procedures

Helpful external article:

Leadership Principles:

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The unfolding crisis of the pandemic is a clear example of what management scholars call an ambiguous threat. Management training combined with human biases are key drivers of under-reacting in a crisis.

Harvard Business Review has identified key tenets that leadership should follow to respond effectively to the current crisis:

  • Acting with urgency
  • Communicating with transparency
  • Taking responsibility and focusing on solving problems
  • Engage in constant updating

Leaders must be willing to take the initiative and act decisively, even in the absence of data. The uncertainty caused by the crisis brings about a great deal of danger so leadership must be in a position to provide honest and accurate descriptions of the situation and the measures being taken. Overcoming consumers’ fears will be key in attracting shoppers back to locations. This requires consistent communication that addresses all pain points: customer safety, precautions that have been put in place, and leadership’s long term plans to operate in a post-COVID-19 era.

Helpful external articles:

The world at a glance:

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As the world is learning to live with the new reality and making changes to the way we work, our lives, and the way we run businesses, all regions and businesses are learning to cope up with new conditions in their regions. As shopping centres were highly impacted due to COVID-19, it is important to look at how some regions and some of the biggest names in the industry are trying to strike a balance between public safety and business.

North America:

In the United States, many malls that had been closed since March to curb the spread of COVID-19 have begun to reopen starting the first week of May. Most malls in the United States have been advised to follow guidelines issued by the CDC for Reopening America. Additionally, the National Retail Federation (NRF) in tandem with the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), published “A Blueprint For Shopping Safe” to aid member stores in reopening. The NRF has also published state information about COVID-19 based on information provided by state and local government agencies which can be accessed here.

In Canada, after the joint statement released by Prime Minister Trudeau on 28th April 2020 with premiers across Canada, the local governments have been given the authority to make decisions suited to jurisdictions, geography, and disease activity for restarting the economy.

Malls in America plan to reopen. CDC-approved masks and individual sanitizing wipe packets will be provided at some places at no charge to shoppers. Temperature checks will be conducted for all customers and employees. The dining area in the food court will be limited to ensure social distancing. Mall of America also plans to open its doors starting June 1, 2020 and will have markers inside the mall to ensure social distancing.

Similarly, malls in Canada have started reopening in a few provinces with similar health and hygiene measures in place. Initially, they will be operating with limited store hours and hand sanitizer stations will be placed throughout shopping centres. Nursing rooms will be open but with controlled access and cleaning procedures after each use.

Middle East:

The Middle East region consists of some of the biggest and most iconic malls in the world. However, because of the surge in COVID-19 cases, all countries had closed down malls in the month of March. As the economy starts to reopen, based on guidelines of various regions, malls are taking all the precautions to ensure the health and safety of their customers. Bahrain & Iran were the first countries to ease restrictions in April with Bahrain making masks compulsory and imposing heavy fines for the violators. The guidelines in Iran are advisory only with no penalties for infractions.

UAE, which is a hub of some of the prominent malls, has also made it mandatory for customers to wear masks inside the malls at all times. The malls will operate at 30% capacity and with car parking capacity being limited as well in the initial phase of restriction easing. While food and beverage outlets in the malls are open for dine-in, they must conduct health checks on customers before entering the mall. Children below 12 and anyone over 60 years of age will be prohibited from entering the mall.

While all regions have advised customers to practice social distancing, Dubai has also warned customers to not spend more than 3 hours at the mall. Strict restrictions have been imposed on changing rooms and the number of items each customer is allowed to try. Store staff are required to sanitize all tried items and set them aside for at least 24 hours before putting them back on the shelf.

Other countries such as Egypt, KSA, and Turkey have reopened their malls with a similar set of guidelines. Strict measures have been put in place on the use of elevators and other common areas. Mall entry and exit points have to be separated to prevent crowds from forming. All countries have had their prayer rooms, cinemas, and other entertainment venues closed with restrictions to be revised after the Holy month of Ramadan.

The Dubai Mall, the largest mall in the region, has installed ceiling mounted thermal cameras to monitor temperatures of passersby. The mall has also introduced technology to control the number of people entering the mall and monitor this with hourly reports. Al Futtaim Group’s Dubai Festival City Mall on the other hand benefits from having the expertise of its Healthcare Division on-site with the fully equipped HealthHub Clinic on-premise available for any customer needs as well as on-call for Festival Plaza. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Al-Futtaim Health Division has been playing a key role in sharing the health care burden across the UAE.

Europe & UK:

While a few European countries like the UK and Ireland are still observing the lockdown, Germany was one of the first countries to lift the lockdown in April by allowing all shops, without any limitation, to open up. As per the government guidelines they will have to continue to observe strict hygienic rules, such as conducting entrance controls and the mandatory wearing masks, as per government protocols.

In France, Denmark, and Spain, shopping centres began opening up starting May 11, 2020. Respective governments of these countries have advised shopping centres to install hand sanitizer dispensers across the malls, navigate traffic through floor markings, and have also advised for special time slots for the most vulnerable. The government of Denmark has also banned retailers from offering large discounts.

Mall of Berlin, one of the main malls in the region, has modified their hours of operation. Their slides, kids area, and information booths have been temporarily closed. While cash payments are being accepted, the mall recommends using cashless methods of payments. Restaurants in the food court are also open but eating at the centre is prohibited. Customers are advised to take food and drinks home. The Usines Center in France has similar measures in place in terms of hygiene and safety. Additionally mandatory traffic direction has been implemented with the help of floor decals. The mall will also display the number of customers limited in the mall premises. As per the current guidelines, the limitation applied is 1 person / 10m², 1000 customers in the centre.

Asia Pacific:

China has relaxed its lockdown restrictions and as per the guidelines issued on May 8, 2020. Shopping malls can fully reopen as long as owners follow strict social-distancing and hygiene requirements. Similarly, South Korea has also relaxed its social distancing rules allowing malls to be fully functional. People are advised to keep a distance of 2 meters in public places and follow basic personal hygiene routines such as washing hands.

Shopping centres in Thailand have reopened beginning May 17, 2020. As per the guidelines, thermal scanners have to be placed in malls to check high temperature and each shopper must pass through a disinfectant mist at every entrance. Under the new guidelines, masks are a must, customers have been advised to not overcrowd escalators, and are required to keep at least 2 metres distance from those in front of them. As a contact tracing measure, customers must also register on their smartphone when they enter and exit malls as well as individual stores. Malls in Singapore have been advised to operate at reduced capacity.

To ensure the health and safety of customers, malls in Thailand are adapting to innovative measures. Siam Piwat is deploying automatic temperature scanning robots, free face-mask dispensers, and disinfecting drones at malls. Other health and safety measures have also been ramped up for maximum protection and touchpoints are scheduled to be sanitized every half an hour. Seacon Square in Bangkok has replaced elevator buttons with foot pedals in an attempt to reduce touchpoints. At Vivocity Mall in Singapore, customers must wear masks and must undergo a temperature check before entering. They also need to register their entry to enable contact tracing.

Australia/New Zealand:

Shopping centres in Australia began to reopen starting May 9, 2020 with the government appealing to customers to strictly follow social distancing. The Shopping Centre Council of Australia (SCCA) developed a protocol to provide a consistent, practical, and public-health led guide for shopping centres. Some of the measures include installing hand sanitizer stations across the malls, installing signages and ground markings to encourage social distancing, promoting contactless transactions, and daily check-ins with employees on their well being. New Zealand began reopening its shopping centres starting May 14, 2020 as it reached Alert Level 2 of its COVID-19 action plan. All malls must comply with public health guidance including physical distancing and record keeping.

To encourage recommended 1.5-meter physical distancing inside the malls, Westfield malls in Australia are making regular PA announcements and have closed kids’ play areas and food court seating areas. They are also working with retailers to provide appropriate space for customer queues and are displaying government health advice on screens across the malls. Westfield has also introduced Westfield Direct, a contactless click and collect service, that enables customers to order online from multiple Westfield retailers in one transaction and pick-up via contactless drive-through at the local centre. Kiwi Property in New Zealand has modified their hours of operation at most of their shopping centres. They have reduced seating in the food court and have implemented voluntary contact tracing for customers to register if they are seated in the food court. They are using people counting systems to monitor the number of customers entering the mall.

Latin America:

Chile began reopening of malls on May 1, 2020. As per the guidelines issued by the government, people going to malls must wear face masks, allow their temperature to be taken, and not gather in groups. Malls are also directed to assign personnel to implement measures ensuring that there is always clean water, hand sanitizer, garbage containers with lids, and that the distance between workers is protected among other precautions. The mall staff has to be trained on COVID-19 transmission and preventive measures.

Mall Plaza, a Chilean chain of malls, have implemented safety guidelines at their malls. They have preferential access for supermarkets and other stores for those who need it. They are also conducting temperature checks for all customers entering the mall and have digital screens displaying the number of people inside the mall.

Get in touch with our team:

We hope you found this playbook useful. If you have any suggestions or found anything incorrect, we would love to hear from you. Reach out to us at support@aislelabs.com and we will get in touch with you promptly.

Aislelabs’ coverage on responses to coronavirus for the below industries:

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