I look out my window and see that it's raining, the onset of a season that dolefully ushers in the second half of the year. The first half that passed seemed so unreal, and yet nothing can be more un-imaginary and tangible than the excruciating realities we had, and continue to have, to grapple with as we try to overcome and survive the greatest challenge of our time — this pandemic that has disrupted life at an unprecedented global scale.
On the local front, the Taal Volcano eruption that greeted us at the start of the year provided a manageable yet meaningful experience on crisis management that quickly spun into an intense, extensive and fast-evolving business continuity planning marathon with the arrival of COVID-19. As the virus continues to wreak havoc on public health and safety and flatten economies at a seemingly unstoppable pace, we strive to move with urgency to mitigate its impact on the ecosystem of Ayala Malls.
Three vital elements of the business swiftly come to mind: our merchants, our customers, our people. Without them, clearly there is no business to speak of. How do we help provide lifeboats to keep many from drowning in the sea of COVID-19 while keeping ourselves afloat so we can sustain the support?
“ The immediate future would necessitate every ounce of courage and relentlessness in pursuit of survival. Of mutual support and bayanihan. Of innovation and creativity and resourcefulness. Of calm resolve to dig in and get all hands on deck. ”
How do we ensure health and safety? How do we rebuild trust and confidence to drive foot traffic, and address mental anxiety as employees work from home or stay in the malls for months without seeing family?
How do we bring operating costs down while preserving customer experience as revenues get severely eroded? The immediate future would necessitate every ounce of courage and relentlessness in pursuit of survival of mutual support and bayanihan, of innovation and creativity and resourcefulness, and of calm resolve to dig in and get all hands on deck.
We laid out a transition roadmap to clarify our objectives and align our execution so we can move as one organization amid the fluidity of the times. It focused on preparedness and recovery, protection, adoption and adaptation, occupancy, and productivity and engagement. In spite of our inexperience with something so unfamiliar and extraordinary, with unwavering commitment from the team, we set out to pursue our roadmap.
Supporting our merchants
“ The business loss is painful for the company, and we doggedly look for ways and opportunities to stem the impact and turn things around, but perhaps more painful still are the losses being endured at the level of small businesses whose concern is not just rent, but many other aspects of operations that were crippled. ”
Back in March, with ECQ looming and business closures inevitable, we immediately resolved to grant a rent reprieve to merchants who were restricted from operating and considered in the common area charges only actual costs to keep the malls safe, secure and properly maintained. In the ensuing months and even beyond today, as cities transition from ECQ to GCQ to MGCQ, and sometimes in reverse order, we continue to provide rent support.
By the end of May, rent condonation totaled about P4 billion in foregone revenues, with more expected. The business loss is painful for the company, and we doggedly look for ways and opportunities to stem the impact and turn things around, but perhaps more painful still are the losses being endured at the level of small businesses whose concern is not just rent, but many other aspects of operations that were crippled.
As we hold listening conversations with merchants, we gain a better understanding of their plight and their needs and how personal their business is to them, we are heartened by their spirit of generosity and concern over their own workforce, we are moved to action by their insights and creative ideas to work collectively in aid of vendors and suppliers (such as the upcoming Farmer’s Project), and we are emboldened by their determination to forge ahead despite the challenges. Now more than ever is a time to hold hands and provide mutual support so we can all keep going.
Connecting to our customers
With quarantine restricting movement and many stores closing, connecting to customers was a big challenge. Our thought: if people can't go to the mall, how can we possibly bring the mall to them? We recognize that people, by nature and need, are resourceful and adaptable.
A clear example of this is how the lockdown caused an accelerated shift to digital platforms to enable consumption, entertainment, and fulfillment, as physical store visits became limited.
E-commerce flourished with a much bigger active audience, and the use of digital wallets such as GCash became prevalent. With the advent of click-and-mortar, we sought to participate by launching our digital initiatives to connect our shoppers and merchants online and offline.
We launched DriveBuy, a convenient curbside pick-up facility that promotes contactless payment and convenience.
We rolled out Z!ng, our Ayala Malls loyalty app that's so handy it's like having a concierge at your fingertips, designed to provide a store information guide so you can easily check which stores are open for a quick and purposeful mall visit, a reservation facility, a unique navigation system (imagine Wazing your way around the mall!), P2P bus schedules, an e-gift marketplace, movie-booking, parking payments, plus more features into the future.
We also partnered with personal shopper service MyKuya and logistics companies for DeliverEasy, and strengthened our curated digital lifestyle platform Pasyal.tv and Pasyal.ph that feature our merchant offerings. We followed a clear social command in our marketing communications on all digital fronts so we can clearly inform, guide and engage our customers, and remain top of mind
Caring for our people
The role of HR has never been more pronounced and important than today as we keep the organization engaged, productive, and in good physical and mental health. We have to keep the morale high as we adapt to a dispersed work set-up, where we have people working from home, stay-in personnel looking after the malls 24/7, and a rotating skeleton force that keeps operations running.
For our transition roadmap to bear fruit, we ensure that communication lines remain open and active so that challenges, remedies, and ideas are brought to fore, eLearning programs are available for continuous development, and management directions are cascaded through virtual townhalls.
We initiated Ripple Sessions (much like TEDxTalks) as a venue for instructive, incisive and insightful exchange and self-expression. We set up rescue teams in the form of Teams A, B and C, to immediately address any threat of transmission while keeping operations and services safe and uninterrupted, and making sure we provide support to those whose health has been compromised in any way, all the way to recovery.
“ The new normal will embrace a mindfulness for health and safety, a practicality on budget spending geared towards value-for-money, trusted brands, and essential purchases as jobs get slashed and job security becomes uncertain, a widespread adoption of digital, and various means of self-preservation. ”
As we work on stabilizing all aspects of operations, one common thread ties it all: ensuring that health and safety protocols are in place to safeguard against a vicious, unseen enemy, so we can allay fear and rebuild customer trust, and more importantly, stem the tide of transmission.
In recent weeks, with the gradual reopening of the economy, we are glad to see many merchants resuming operations. And while foot traffic is just slowly picking up, it’s solid proof of life that we are intent on reviving and nurturing. The Filipinos are a resilient and social people, and we are confident that sooner rather than later, we will once again converge and meet in Ayala Malls.
The next months will continue to be an uphill battle. The new normal will embrace a mindfulness for health and safety, a practicality on budget spending geared towards value-for-money, trusted brands, and essential purchases as jobs get slashed and job security becomes uncertain, a widespread adoption of digital, and various means of self-preservation. The way forward must be one of adaptability, agility and grit. As our COVID-19 experience unfolds, we turn it around and reshape that experience to discover strengths and opportunities that lie within so we can forge ahead with keener insight, better judgment, and brighter breakthroughs.
The way forward must be one of adaptability, agility, and grit. As our COVID-19 experience unfolds, we turn it around and reshape that experience to discover strengths and opportunities that lie within so we can forge ahead with keener insight, better judgment, and brighter breakthroughs.
And as the rains fall, we remember with gratitude that we continue to be around and that they fall if only to quench the parched earth (paraphrasing Indian writer Munshi Premchand).
Edited by Rica Delfinado