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Retail stores in Melbourne have joined restaurants and hair salons in reopening to the public as the city gradually exits one of the world’s longest lockdowns. 

But while the overarching response has been one of relief and excitement, there is also confusion about vaccination rules and concern about customer abuse. 

We asked four retail leaders how they’re feeling about the reopening. Here are their thoughts.

Richard Pearson, managing director, Target Australia

Inside Retail: How are you feeling about the reopening? 

RP: We’re pretty excited. The stores are full, and the team is really looking forward to dealing with customers again. It’s what they get excited about. We’ve got [Christmas] trees and decorations, so it feels pretty festive. All our summer ranges are looking their best, so everybody who needs a new outfit for going to the pub or parties are good to go. It’s been a tough few months, but I think it’s going to be an exciting few weeks ahead.

We’ve seen a very strong bounce back in sales in New South Wales since the reopening there, so we think this period going into Christmas is going to be pretty buoyant. And I think we’re as covered as we can be from a health and safety point of view. The team is well trained, they know what to do [around] the check-ins and all that kind of thing. 

IR: Have you experienced any challenges? 

RP: At an industry level, the hardest thing has been the short-term changes and lack of consistency across the states. It would be far easier if there was just one rule in place everywhere. Having to react to changing circumstances and the complexity of different rules in different jurisdictions has made things harder, but we’ve dealt with it. 

Jason Chang, CEO, Calia and Melbourne City Councillor 

IR: Calia opened its in-store dining about a week ago. What has that been like? 

JC: Reopening has been a huge relief for us and it is great to see customers back in our stores dining together with friends and family. The staff are all pleased to get back to work, especially many in the hospo and retail sectors who have not been working for the past few months. We are preparing for hopefully a bumper Christmas and summer period, and as borders open, we are awaiting [the return of] international students and tourists, who form a large proportion of dining and retail customers in Melbourne.

IR: Have you experienced any challenges related to the reopening? 

JC: So many things have changed over the past few months, there are stock and staff shortages, supplier prices have all increased and we now have to check vaccination statuses and socially distance customers and staff. The operating environment for businesses is much more difficult than before and all businesses are doing their best to keep their customers happy and safe. 

Calia is following all government mandates and requirements put in place in regards to reopening, and all of our customer-facing staff have been given training and lessons in how to deal with difficult customers. The health and safety of all staff and customers is our number one priority and we are following all the rules to ensure we can reopen safely and stay open. 

Mark Rubbo, managing director, Readings

IR: What steps did you take to prepare for the reopening? 

MR: We revisited and adjusted our Covid Safe plan and re-inducted all our staff to make sure they understood the issues. A number are understandably anxious, and this has been exacerbated by the lack of clarity from the government as to whether unvaccinated people are allowed in general retail. But I think most are generally relieved that we are getting back to near normal.

IR: What, if any, concerns do you have about the reopening? 

MR: Keeping up with monitoring the number of patrons and the resources it requires. We are worried about what happens when we move to Phase D and only the vaccinated will be allowed in – that will create tensions and add to costs. I hope that policy will be reviewed and adjusted if vaccination rates keep going up and cases get under control.

IR: Some people are saying the reopening is happening “just in time” for peak season. What’s your take on this? 

MR: This is about the same time that we reopened last year, and it is just in time – any later would have made it difficult to have a meaningful Christmas trading period.

Doug Lowe, centre manager, Moonee Ponds Central 

IR: How do you think customers feel about returning to shopping centres? 

DL: We know customers are eager to get back out and enjoy their freedoms. We are expecting customers to return in large numbers given we are now in the lead-up to Christmas. We have organised additional safety measures such as queuing for major stores and high touch point cleaning, but a big difference between Sydney’s reopening and our own, is the timing. Our reopen was at 6pm on a Friday, while Sydney reopened on a Monday. We were conscious some of our retailers weren’t able to open for that evening trade, so we focused on communicating the right information to our customers to set their expectations for that Friday evening to ensure they have the best possible experience. 

IR: What are some of the challenges of reopening for retailers in Melbourne? 

DL: Our retailers are really looking forward to welcoming our customers back. We are very much a community here at Moonee Ponds Central, so it will be fantastic to see everyone in person again after these extended lockdowns. Our retailers and our teams are mindful there is a level of confusion around various rules and regulations. We ask all shoppers to please be respectful of retail staff and our centre teams, so we can provide the best and safest shopping experience for everyone.

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