Business & Finance | May 16th, 2020
Malls and Retail Stores are Reopening. Will Shopping Ever Be The Same?
By: Ezekiel Hobbs
For about two months, malls and stores that were considered non-essential have been closed. Essential stores that were open, including supermarkets and big-box food retailers like Costco, Walmart, and Target, reduced their store hours and suspended returns and refunds to help prevent the circulation of COVID-19.
Recently, Governor Square Mall and other retailers reopened their doors in Tallahassee as part of Governor Ron DeSantis phase one plan to ease up the coronavirus stay-at-home measures. With phase one being implemented, retailers are only allowed to have their stores open at 50% capacity and must follow CDC guidelines to keep customers safe.
The hard part is persuading worried Americans that it’s safe to shop, especially under restrictions that the government has placed.
Electronic retailer Best Buy reopened its doors, but it’s not the shopping experience customers may be used to. The company rolled out what they’re calling “in-store consultation services” in different United States locations, including Tallahassee. Companies are trying to handle the shaky balance between keeping their business from falling off the market while implementing policies that protect their shoppers.
Most companies are trying to restore shrinking sales from the coronavirus pandemic. Due to the triggering record of sales decreasing at 8.7% in March as large parts of the economy were shut down in the U.S.
“Just because a store is open does not mean it will have shoppers.”
Fear of contracting the virus in public areas and the limits on testing in the United States are barriers to Americans feeling comfortable returning to stores, public health and retail experts say. The Florida Department of Health says the number of known cases of COVID-19 in the state rose by 673 since yesterday morning as the virus spreads and as more people are tested. The total number of cases in Florida is now 44,811.
“I believe people are indeed scared to come into stores, and there are quite a few people who believe it is too soon for many non-essential stores to reopen,” said CVS Manager Lisa Lindsay. “Just because a store is open does not mean it will have shoppers”
Lindsay is in charge of the online orders at a CVS store located in Tallahassee. She has seen a significant decline in in-person shopping with a major increase in online shopping. The workers inside the store fulfill hundreds of online orders every day that ship out to different customers.
In a survey by predictive analytics company First Insight, 65 percent of women said they would not feel safe trying on clothes in dressing rooms, because of the COVID-19 crisis.
The company gathered 1,066 responses from consumers on April 30. The survey found that 54 percent of men will not feel safe using dressing rooms. Furthermore, 66 percent of women, and 54 percent of men, said they would not feel comfortable working with sales associates in retail stores.
“Brick and mortar retailers are relying on customers to shop inside the store so that they can stay in business.”
Store manager Shaniqua Martin at New Square in Governor Square Mall acknowledged that some customers choose to stay away from the mall out of fear of contracting the virus.
“For us being back open for only one day now, it’s surprising to see customers wanting to still shop in the mall,” said Martin. “However, I don’t blame the customers who are still afraid to come inside the mall because my health will be my concern on the days I’ll be working in the store.”
With the reopening of the mall, Governor Square Mall looks dramatically different. The mall has significantly fewer shoppers than usual, and many stores within the mall are still shut down. Open stores are only allowed to have a limited number of customers at a time.
Governor Square Mall promises shoppers safety with new health precautions. Photo courtesy Ezekiel Hobbs.
Pandora had an employee with a mask on standing outside in front of the store, keeping track of how many customers entered the store. Social distancing stickers and indicators are placed throughout the mall. Also, the food court seating is limited, with Chick-Fil-A being the only food option open inside.
Overtime shopping centers and other retailers hope to see more shoppers come in the stores as more phases of Governor Ron DeSantis reopening the state plan come about. Many of the brick and mortar retailers are relying on customers to shop inside the store so that they can stay in business.
“I’m pretty sure more customers will come back to the stores as time progresses,” explained Lindsay. “We’ll just have to wait and see.”