Adapting to new normal at Malaysian malls: Most shoppers, stores Covid-19 wary but not all

Navamani Thevarajah speaks to a reporter during an interview at Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Navamani Thevarajah speaks to a reporter during an interview at Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — Face masks, hand sanitiser and antibacterial wipes have become essential items for Navamani Thevarajah whenever she runs errands at the shopping mall.

She also arms herself with gloves in case she has to examine products before purchasing them.  

That is what the norm used to be, Navamani said — browsing and picking up items from the shelves — but she no longer dares to do this, for fear of Covid-19 that spreads through contact.  

“I’m here with my family to look for prescription glasses. As a precaution, we wipe down whatever we try on.

“All of us decided to wear gloves on the hand that we use most to pick things up with, push doors open and handle cash.

“The virus has definitely changed how we live our lives,” she told Malay Mail when met at the Nu Sentral mall here.

Prior to the movement control order (MCO) being enforced on March 18, Nu Sentral was usually packed with a mix of the working crowd, shoppers and tourists, since it is connected to KL Sentral.

“It feels different, walking in the mall today, in this quietness.

“Everyone is in their facemasks. Your temperature gets checked before you are allowed to enter the carpark and you have to register yourself at each shop before entering too,” she said, indicating that she also brings along her own pen to jot down her contact details when needed.

She added that she doesn’t mind taking these precautions, as the risk of contracting the virus in Malaysia remains high.

No trying policy

Shoppers line up outside a clothing store at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
Shoppers line up outside a clothing store at a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

For Alicia Fong and Kelly Chong, they have resorted to ‘traditional methods’ when it comes to determining the right clothing size because customers are not allowed to use fitting rooms at the moment.

“You can do shoulder and waist measurements, but with the help of another person. So we’re helping each other out since we can’t try anything on.

“We’re also only shopping at places that we are familiar with, so we won’t have to worry about getting the wrong size,” said Fong.

As for Chong, she said she has been purchasing shoes from online platforms, especially Taiwan-based ones.

“Asian feet sizes are very similar, so I don’t have problems with that,” she said when met at a clothing shop.

What about makeup products?

A store manager at popular makeup and body care outlet, Sephora, said it has stopped all makeup trial services for the time being.

“All of our beauty advisers have switched to offering verbal consultations only.

“We are also encouraging customers to use our online shade checker application to explore makeup items like foundation and lipsticks.

“That is currently our policy to avoid any services that require physical contact with customers,” said the store manager who declined to be named.

As for fragrances, customers can no longer sample scents at Sephora perfume counters; beauty advisers help with pairing notes to a customer’s preferences instead.

“That is all we can do now to keep everyone safe. We hope that our customers understand our policies and help us keep each other safe,” the store manager said.

Freeze on free tastings

A popular thing to do at ice cream counters, such as Baskin Robbins, is conducting a taste test before settling on a flavour of your choice.

This too can no longer be done, said a counter staff who requested anonymity.

“We have stopped all tasting options since the enforcement of the MCO in March.

“That is one of the things that puts both staff and customers at risk as there is contact involved,” said the counter staff.

For now, counter staff will help customers make up their minds by matching their requests to the available ice cream flavours.

Surviving without shopping

(From left) Wan Norfatin Afiqah Najwa, Nur Ajla and Muhammad Mu’adz speak to a reporter during an interview at Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
(From left) Wan Norfatin Afiqah Najwa, Nur Ajla and Muhammad Mu’adz speak to a reporter during an interview at Nu Sentral in Kuala Lumpur May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

For friends Wan Norfatin Afiqah Najwa, Nur Ajla and Muhammad Mu’adz, this is the first time that they have seen each other since January when they parted ways for their internship programme.

When met at a cafe in Nu Sentral, they said it has become quite troublesome to go shopping.

“If I don’t need anything, I prefer not to line up at the shop.

“It takes up too much time, especially if you are in a rush,” said Nur Ajla.

‘Doesn’t feel like people are afraid’

Over at Mid Valley Megamall, housemates Muhammad Afwanuddin and Muhammad Kamal said the environment at the megamall felt just like it did before the MCO was enforced.

“It’s quite scary to see so many people at the mall when we are supposed to practise social distancing.

“We were in several sports apparel shops earlier. The space in the shop was tight. There is no way for social distancing between customers who are in these shops.

“We didn’t dare go inside when we saw long queues and the cramped space in the shops,” said Kamal, referring to stores that were offering buy-one-free-one promotions.

He added that they can no longer window shop because even to do that, one needs to queue.

“It’s too much trouble just to window shop.

“This is the first time that we are out since the MCO was enforced.

“It doesn’t feel like people are afraid of the virus,” Afwanddin added.

Virus, what virus?

People practise social distancing at a restaurant in Nu Sentral Kuala Lumpur, May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon
People practise social distancing at a restaurant in Nu Sentral Kuala Lumpur, May 26, 2020 — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

As for Susan Ng, it felt like people have forgotten about Covid-19 and the dangers of contracting it.

“I was in Jaya Grocer earlier, and while picking out some potatoes, another customer came so close to me as though the potatoes were running away.

“It panicked me, and I quickly left the area,” Ng said.

She added that at the rate people were going, without observing social distancing, especially at shopping malls, she fears a cluster could appear at public spaces.

“I regret coming out today thinking that there won’t be that many people since the government had advised us to stay home and only come out when necessary.

“I came to get my two weeks’ worth of groceries and I don’t think I want to come out anymore if this is what I have to face again,” she added.

She, however, pointed out that people were probably out with their families due to the public holiday, but she disagreed with them crowding malls.

“People are with their children, when the government’s advice is not to bring children to public places,” she said.

On May 1, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that from May 4, the MCO would be observed with certain conditions, among others, businesses from almost all categories were allowed to resume operations and dine-in is permitted with social distancing practices encouraged.

Malay Mail also made observations at Bukit Bintang where it was relatively quiet with no queues in sight at major apparel outlets such as Uniqlo and H&M, both of which are flagship stores.

At Melawati Mall in Hulu Kelang, shoppers have returned to the mall for food, essential and non-essential items. Unfortunately, not all adhere to social distancing while queuing at shops in the mall.

As for Telawi in Bangsar, it was like a ghost town in March when the MCO first started. But traffic has built up again since the conditional MCO kicked in.


 

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