Corona Crisis | Shopping Center (Germany)

"Corona has sped up a lot of things!"

Marco Atzberger, Business Leading EHI, in conversation with the editors of FOOD SERVICE.
EHI Retail Institute
Marco Atzberger, Business Leading EHI, in conversation with the editors of FOOD SERVICE.

"Probably never before have shopping centers in Germany gone through a more difficult time than since 2020," states the EHI Retail Institute's Shopping Center Report 2021. The Covid-19-related closures since mid-December 2020, in total a shutdown lasting around six months, are causing massive hardship for tenants in the centers. Experiences & lessons learned? FOOD SERVICE spoke to Marco Atzberger, EHI Retail Institute.

From your point of view, what were the biggest challenges in shopping centers in the past pandemic year with major lockdown phases?
Marco Atzberger:
Initially, politics really didn 't know how to deal with shopping centers, think of the 800 square meter rule after the first lockdown - did that apply to entire centers or to the individual stores in the center? That's where education had to be done.
But customers are also staying away. The supposed dangers in closed rooms and aisles make the open shopping streets of the city center more attractive, if one has any desire at all to shop in the store or pick up merchandise. However, the centers have proven many times that they have very good possibilities to implement hygiene protection measures as a holistically managed property.

On gastronomy in the centres: How well could lockdown phases be bridged with take-away or delivery offers, for example?
Most food courts in the centers are located centrally or on upper floors. This has many advantages in a normal operation, but for a quick takeaway during Corona it is very difficult.
Operators can try to compensate for this with fast parking or serving stations at the entrance, but in fact people often have other options for their lunch break in their home office than going to the center food court of all places. And there were simply too few of the customers strolling through the center who said, "I'll take something for home," to please the food service establishments that were open.

What do you think are the lessons of the pandemic?
It is true that the crisis has forced all parties involved to sit down together more intensively and more frequently than in the past. If it is possible to continue this dialogue not only to deal with the acute crisis, but beyond that, then the dealer community, gastronomy and landlords can shape the new start with joint actions. But the opportunity sounds easier than it is. The loss of sales has also hit one or the other chain store from retail and gastronomy hard.

Will there be a change in guest and consumer behaviour as a result of the pandemic? Your experiences and forecasts?
This form of global, forced consumption renunciation has never happened before. It is difficult to predict whether the reaction will be catch-up consumption - the money would be there - or whether the renunciation has already become a habit.
What is clear, however, is that the proportion of people working from home will remain higher than before Corona, and business trips will become less frequent. Overall, the crisis is accelerating what was already there. In the case of shopping centers, this means that there will be only a few new openings and that these are increasingly already planned as multi-use properties.
The centers are getting smaller, going downtown. The long term competition is not "Corona", it is digital business models that cannibalize previous brick-and-mortar sales. Corona has extremely accelerated this process and is pushing many to the breaking point. Success now means quickly overcoming the distance to the customer and pushing personal proximity. Before the crisis, gastro offers in particular served as the key to a feel-good experience and quality of stay. This is still true!
About the EHI Retail Institute
The EHI is a scientific institute of the retail industry. EHI's approximately 800 members include international retail companies and their industry associations, manufacturers of consumer and capital goods and various service providers. EHI cooperates with the most important international institutes and associations in the retail sector.