David Fuller-Watts, managing director for retail technology platform Mallcomm, discusses the uncertainty surrounding how we will navigate the next phase of the pandemic
The Omicron variant caused severe disruption for many people over the Christmas period, and while we have so far avoided full lockdown measures there could still be further restrictions that impact retailer trading in shopping centres.
The good news is that this time around the sector will be much better prepared as measures that had to be rapidly introduced in 2020 have now been properly tested, refined and improved.
Indeed, the pandemic has accelerated the digitisation of shopping centres as owners and asset managers now recognise that creating a ‘connected community’ is vital to responding quickly to any change in Government guidance.
Closing centres, maintaining social distancing or communicating a change in public health guidance all require joined up thinking and constant communication between dozens of stakeholders across centre management teams, retailers, transport authorities, local government and nearby businesses and residents.
As such we have seen huge demand for the Mallcomm platform, which enables all participants to communicate and share information in real-time, driving collaboration and ensuring a rapid response to any change in trading conditions.
Collaboration between retailers is also critical for managing the current labour shortage. According to the Office for National Statistics there were 90,000 job vacancies in retail at the end of 2021 with companies facing a ‘war for talent’ with the hospitality and logistics sectors. The current spike in Covid cases is exacerbating the problem, with staff forced to isolate due to positive tests or wary of working in busy public places.
As a result, retailers are relying on more short-term shift workers, and through platforms such as Mallcomm are able to work together to pool and manage staff at shopping centres, ensuring temporary staff are deployed effectively during busy periods.
Digital engagement platforms also enable landlords and retailers to keep a direct line of communication with shoppers, to allay any concerns they may have around visiting public places. At this time, it is essential that retail places remain easy to access, queues and congestion are properly managed, and basic amenities are available.
The presence of clear signage, sanitiser stations and availability of masks are also important as visual reassurance for visitors. A key benefit of having an app or online platform for visitors is that you can provide information directly to shoppers in real-time, ensuring visitors understand any social distancing guidelines or other precautions that may be in place so they can be prepared.
As we enter 2022 there is a common consensus that we need to learn to live with Covid. For UK shopping centres this means creating more digitally-enabled and connected assets that will be more resilient to whatever the next twelve months bring.
This was first published in Retail Destination Fortnightly. Click here to subscribe.