Uneasy silence at malls
Sales drop as locals, tourists avoid shops
The atmosphere at NaRaYa, a popular bag retailer at Ratchaprasong intersection, has completely changed during the past several months. Long queues of customers and busy cashiers are sights not seen at the flagship store since the coronavirus outbreak.
A similar fate has befallen Big C Supercenter's Ratchadamri branch, whose Thai souvenir zone on the ground floor used to be a hotspot for Chinese shoppers but has now gone quiet. It's the same story at Tao Kae Noi Land's Terminal 21 shop, another draw for Chinese tourists.
"Tour buses and almost all Chinese shoppers have gone away," said a salesperson at Big C Ratchadamri who asked not to be named. "I am no longer adding products to the Thai souvenir shelves three or four times a day."
A director of the Thai Retailers Association said the 3.8-trillion-baht retail industry is in dire straits as the viral outbreak drives shoppers away.
"The overall industry is completely in the dark, and I don't know when the situation will improve," the director said.
Palm, 35, a trader at Platinum Fashion Mall in the Pratunam area, said sales of fashion products at her shop fell by 50% in January, with as much as an 80% drop anticipated in February.
"Some shops on the third, fourth and fifth storeys of Platinum were closed because they don't have products to sell, as traders from China cannot send their products to Thai partners," Mrs Palm said. "I have inventory only for the end of this month."
The situation is the worst she's confronted since events like the 2010 political protests, the 2011 floods and the 2018 Phuket boat accident.
Sending out an SOS
Tenants at MBK shopping centre near Siam Square also share the same harsh experience. A sharp fall in sales prompted tenants two days ago to gather in protest against MBK and ask management to come up with aid measures such as reducing the rent.
Somphol Tripopnart, managing director of shopping centre business at MBK Plc, said the company is working on short- and long-term measures to help tenants.
Last week, traders at Platinum Fashion Mall sent an open letter to the management seeking support, while a Platinum spokesman said management is also mulling a reduction in rent during these tough times.
"The reduction rate will be considered with different conditions for each tenant," the spokesman said.
Paibul Kanokwattanwan, group chief executive of The Mall Group, acknowledged the unprecedented headwinds for retailers.
"In the several decades I've been in the retail business, 2020 is the most difficult year," Mr Paibul said. "Chinese shoppers have shunned our country, while locals aren't going shopping. Revitalising the retail market is difficult because I don't know when the virus outbreak will be brought under control."
He expects the overall retail industry to lose several billions of baht in the first quarter.
A source at the Mall Group said the company has yet to consider any aid measures for its tenants.
Supoj Chaiwatsirikul, managing director of Iconsiam Co Ltd, said the company has set aside more than 50 million baht to launch the "Iconsiam, Thais Help Thais" campaign, offering sales and marketing promotions and concerts from February to May.
Moreover, the "SOS Sale of Iconsiam" from Feb 28 to March 1 will provide discounts of up to 90% and special prices on products.
"We hope this campaign will help operators get over this crisis and restore declining consumer spending soon," Mr Supoj said.