Retailers Association of India, the unified voice of Indian retailers, today lauded the Government’s guidelines allowing the safe opening of various formats of retail, while reiterating the need for the uniform reopening of these stores across India. The Ministry of Home Affairs’ directive has allowed states to open retail stores as per their own independent guidelines. This has led to multiple interpretations and rules that have inconvenienced customers and retailers, while continuing to severely impact demand and sales. The problem has been compounded by the change in the definition of stores; large standalone stores are considered malls in Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu and Assam. Furthermore, states like Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have prohibited stores from operating air-conditioners inside stores.
Non-essential retail sales have seen a frightening drop from 50 percent in March 2020 to 80 percent in May. Essential retail, which has been the lifeline of the nation, was down by 40 percent in April and may further slide to 30 percent given its current run rate. Furthermore, owing to the multiplier effect, this prolonged paralysis has not only affected the retail sector but also manufacturing and several allied sectors that depend on retail to function.
There needs to be uniform standard operating procedures for any part of the reopening process—permission to open stores; time restrictions on store operations; movement of staff and delivery vehicles; product pricing restrictions; the number of staff and customers allowed in a store; or odd/even store restrictions.
Emphasizing the need for clarity and uniformity in policy, Kumar Rajagopalan, CEO, Retailers Association of India, said, “Retailers Association of India welcomes the Unlock 1.0 order by the MHA which allows opening up of malls and all categories of retail. The retail industry employs about 46 million people, and it is important to keep it functioning smoothly, as before. Business is floundering, millions of jobs are at stake and we need a policy framework that allows for the non-discriminatory reopening of retail and time-bound resolution of fiscal and legal matters.”
This should not only make it easier for retailers to do business, but also ensure the convenience and safety of customers. It could, for instance, allow for longer store hours, so that people have a wider window of time for shopping. This could help avoid crowding. The SOPs could also include guidelines for air-conditioning or for maintaining the temperatures within stores at levels that ensure the comfort of the staff and the customers while also maintaining freshness and hygiene of products.