THE PANDEMIC has forced mall operators and retailers to accelerate their digital transformation.

Mall operators are now working closely with retailers to offer personal shopper services, delivery and curbside pick-up for customers who are still wary of going inside the mall.

“We did a lot of innovation, like curbside pickup, call-to-deliver, as part of the (digital) transformation and pivoting… Filipinos, they still like interaction… For those who really cannot come to the mall, we have a number they can call and someone will assist them,” SM Supermalls President Steven Tan said during the BusinessWorld Insights online forum on Jan. 20.

The company in November launched the SM Malls Online app for SM Megamall, SM City North EDSA and SM Mall of Asia (MOA). The app allows customers to buy products from as many of the malls’ stores, and pay just one delivery fee (with some exceptions). Customers can also pick up their purchases in-store.

However, Mr. Tan said digital transformation is not solely about e-commerce.

“The take-up online is still very low. Digital transformation is not just about e-commerce. It’s also innovation… You have to give (the customers) options, delivery, curbside pickup, cashless transactions. This is what we are focusing on right now,” he said.

Despite easing of lockdown restrictions, foot traffic at SM malls have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels.

“Customers are slowly coming back to our malls. We are now at 50-60% of pre-COVID levels. We started very low. When we started in May when we reopened it was 18% of pre-COVID traffic but right now our footfall has increased to 60%,” Mr. Tan said.

Shopping malls were shuttered March 17 to May 16 last year, when the government implemented an enhanced community quarantine to curb the rise in COVID-19 cases.

“We look at the experience of our China malls for inspiration on how we plan move forward from here to a post-pandemic scenario. In China, things are back to normal and there is a surge in revenge spending as well as family events inside the malls. This is because they have innovated used technology to rebuild back better and become omnichannel. The brand has to be shoppable and shippable,” Mr. Tan said. — Cathy Rose A. Garcia