Shopping malls across Turkey reopened in May after two months of closure in light of the coronavirus outbreak. Yet, the public is still shying away from shopping centers that before the crisis in March were one of the places Turkish citizens most enjoyed spending their free time.
As the normalization process, which was subsequently launched in June, takes hold with strict measures in place, malls have joined up with businesses seeking to certify their safety, aiming to raise confidence in hygiene and other standards with the “safe service certificate” available from the state-run Turkish Standards Institution (TSE).
Inspections will be doubled in malls, which are implementing new requirements on everything, from the distance between tables in food courts to the use of elevators to the hygiene in restrooms. TSE President Adem Şahin said that they were discussing new measures with the Council of Shopping Centers (AYD), which represents malls, and has prepared a new model that will reassure the public for its stricter measures. “Every mall is obliged to comply with measures once they are certified. They will have to have their own inspection crews and they will be subject to review. They are required to renew their controls at times. Today’s measure can be ineffective tomorrow. You have to keep up with (the state of the pandemic),” he said.
Each certificate will be valid for a limited period and will be renewed if TSE inspections are found to be in full compliance. Şahin also called on the public to make their own observation if malls comply with the guidelines, from social distancing to the examination of body temperatures of visitors.
AYD Chairman Hüseyin Altaş said malls had already taken action but it was important to have them confirmed by a state-run body. He said 436 malls affiliated with the council had enacted their own measures, but new certificates will ensure minimum standards, boosting public confidence.
Among the new measures required for TSE certification includes the further distancing of tables in food courts, the disinfecting of elevators after each use, a ban on elevator use for all but elderly visitors and those below the age of 15, more disinfection work for escalators and hands-free access to restrooms.
“Having this certificate is not a certainty. Mall operators will have to maintain compliance with measures. They should know that failure to renew certificates means a significant loss of prestige,” he said.
Shopping malls, which proliferated in the early 2000s across the country, especially in big cities, enjoyed massive turnouts up until the pandemic, which confined millions to home. Even after reopening, customers avoided the malls no matter how spacious they were to allow for easier social distancing.
Yet, as more businesses reopened and daily caseloads decrease, they are back on track to compensate for losses during the closure.
Altaş says the number of visitors came to “around 20%” in the first month of reopening compared to the pre-pandemic era, but that this figure had risen to around 50% by June and further increased in the following months.
“We expect a higher number of visitors, with more improvements in malls,” he said, citing late reopening of restaurants and cinemas in the commerce centers. “Not every business in the malls are open but we still have a high number of visitors,” he said.
Altaş also pointed out changes to customer behavior, saying: “Malls served as a place to spend long hours. Visitors can drink coffee and spend 2 to 3 hours daily browsing the stores. Now, they only visit malls to buy goods they had in mind before the visit and immediately leave. Still, we don’t see any significant loss in profits."