How SM Supermalls gears up for economy’s reopening in the new normal

Steven T. Tan, president of SM Supermalls

For several months now, a lot of Filipinos might have missed going to malls when the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic caused a lockdown around the country, albeit supermarkets and pharmacies remained open for customers.

For Steven T. Tan, president of SM Supermalls, its malls have continued servicing customers in spite of the limited operations. “It’s really to provide convenience for our customers. It’s not really to take the opportunity to earn money,” Mr. Tan told BusinessWorld in a virtual interview.

Furthermore, SM Supermalls has taken advantage of the uptrends in digital and delivery services as another way of serving customers.

Mr. Tan took notice of the group’s Viber community, where users can be updated on SM Supermall’s latest offerings, after which they can directly contact tenants and have their orders delivered.

SM Supermalls also has personal shopper assistants. Customers can call the concierge of one of the malls and tell them the items they need or want to buy. The customer service will then look for those items and get back at customers to confirm the items and arrange for the delivery.

“I think this is also the new norm,” Mr. Tan said. “Delivery service is something that we have been working and we kept on improving.”

Now, as SM Supermalls opens most of its malls around the country in the ‘new normal’, the group is diligently ensuring that customers will feel safe when they enter one of their malls.

“Even outside, we have drawn lines on the floor to make sure that when you’re queueing in, you are guided on how to do safe distancing,” Mr. Tan explained. “Upon entering the mall, there would be thermal scanning, and then you will have hand sanitizing, and after that you have foot bath at the very least.”

Also, safety protocol officers are present to give direction to customers and remind them to follow the protocols.

To enhance social distancing in its malls, there are arrows and markings on the floor which will lead customers to which direction they should walk. Moreover, the malls’ atriums are converted into designated dining areas for mall-goers to buy food and dine-in safely.

In terms of sanitation, UV escalator handrail sanitizers are installed to keep its handrails 99.9% virus-free; while antibacterial mist is applied on elevators to make sure that the air is always clean.

Amid limited transportation available, SM Supermalls has converted its terminals into bicycle parking areas to encourage people to use bikes as an alternative.

SM Supermalls has also rolled out fresh initiatives amid the ongoing situation. It will hold its Cybermonth in [August], with promos offered online every single day and the purchases done offline.

In partnership with the Department of Agriculture and Resto PH, the group recently launched Farmer’s Produce, where customers and restaurant owners can buy produce from our farmers at very reasonable prices.

With these initiatives, Mr. Tan finds, SM Supermalls is driven by purpose to help the economy start bouncing back.

“You cannot just do business just for the sake of doing business,” he said. “You have to do business with a purpose, in making sure the economy could go back so that jobs could be provided as soon as possible, that there would be no interruption in the chain supply.”

While SM Supermalls might have its plans this year delayed, it continues aiming for expansion outside Metro Manila, with new malls still set to open in Zamboanga City, Butuan City, and Daet within the year.

As the economy gradually thrives from the crisis, Mr. Tan believes that the country’s mall culture will stay. “Filipinos are very social. They love to go out. They love hanging out with friends. I still believe that malls will still be relevant in the years to come,” he said.