No Christmas parties, only mall sales
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - October 21, 2020 - 12:00am

Major store establishments all over the country led by the popular ShoeMart and the Ayala chain of malls have already dressed up their facades for the Yule season sales ahead. However, sales have not picked up to now while people remain paranoid, if not afraid, to get infected by the deadly 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The mall operations are among the most impacted by the lockdowns and community quarantines for the past seven months since the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in our country. Groceries and stores engaged in the sale of food, health, medicine and other basic goods and services operating inside the malls, however, are kept open even when the hard lockdown started last March 15.

Government though required these establishments to install anti-COVID gadgets from body thermal scanners, to provision of face masks and face shields to their workers, foot baths, alcohol dispensing machines or hand sanitizers, etc. These are the so-called minimum health protocols required by the government to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 contagion. Of course, these have become additional costs of doing business for these establishments while at the same time coping with the reduced work force.

Another anti-COVID measure is stringent entry of mall goers as part of physical or social distancing. All mall establishments are also required to cut down air-conditioning and public wi-fi access to discourage people to linger in such enclosed areas that expose them to COVID-19 infection.

So apparently, the sales volume and receipts of these mall stores have shrunk and cut in to their profitability of their operations. And sadly, our consumption-led economic growth slowed down the strong strides in the past four years under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Since then, President Duterte has recalibrated the lockdowns and community quarantines depending on the COVID-19 cases reported in various parts of the country. The President decides on the community quarantine after the bimonthly review and assessment being done by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID).

The science and data have since then been reconciled with the economic realities on the ground.

To rev up the economy, the IATF Resolution No. 79 directed the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) to gradually allow business establishments increase their operational capacities aimed at stepping up economic activities in the country, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. announced last week.

Roque noted that sales of malls traditionally go up during the “ber” months, referring to the months in the run-up to the Christmas holidays. “We expect to open up because we know that there is maximum opportunity for our markets to recover from the slowdown of the economy,” Roque cited.

“The establishments and malls may hold activities so that there will be economic or business activity such as sales, but still subject to the DTI guidelines in the operation of shopping malls,” Roque clarified.

DTI Secretary Ramon Lopez, a member of the IATF, admitted he pushed for allowing the conduct of mall-wide sales. “I was the one that proposed that to generate back more foot traffic and re-stimulate consumer demand,” Lopez disclosed. According to Lopez, around 95% of sectors have already been allowed to resume business.

The increased operational capacity includes all business establishments or activities in areas classified under general community quarantine (GCQ) or lower. The IATF has allowed increased operations in barber shops, salons and other personal care services, at a maximum capacity of 50 percent; dine-in restaurants at 50 percent seating capacity; among other establishments that are also operating in malls.

The DTI Secretary, however, conceded the crowd and horde of mall goers before COVID-19 pandemic struck won’t still be there. In a public briefing on Monday, Lopez expressed concern on the low turnout of customers visiting malls despite the announcement last week was indicative of the public fears to contract COVID-19 infection remain high. The DTI chief, however, it might be too early to determine if the mall-wide sales that are now again allowed would eventually draw more shoppers at these establishments.

Business leaders welcomed the IATF action. Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Benedicto Yujuico and Philippine Retailers Association president Rosemarie Ong agreed mall wide sale events would help jumpstart the economy. Consumer group Laban Konsyumer Inc. president Victorio Dimagiba believes the conduct of sales might help bring back consumer spending in the retail market if measures to promote health and safety of the people are enforced consistently.

When I went to a mall over the weekend, I was pleasantly surprised to see many red-tagged items at the department stores, or these are the goods and products that have their original white-colored price tags pasted over with red-colored price tags. Without waiting for mall sales, many stores have already cut their prices ranging from 20 up to 50% off from the previous price tags.

When I went to the cashier to pay for my purchased items using my credit card, I was even asked if I want the payment on three or six installment basis but at zero interest rate. These are the usual terms of charged payments. But here’s the kicker. The cashier informed me that I can even opt for a deferred payment from two to four months, or payment will commence only after two to four months, also at zero interest rate.

So if these terms of payment charged to credit card will not entice consumers to shop now, what else could drive them to shop in malls?

With 65 days to go before Christmas, the government’s anti-COVID campaign takes a new twist: No Christmas parties but mall sales only while COVID-19 threats hovering around us. But reboot of our consumer-driven economy will only come if we consumers have the spending money.

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