KUALA LUMPUR - Lawyer Lana Shamsuddin, 49, used to be a shopaholic and visited malls two or three times a week to shop and dine, but all that changed when the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Besides being afraid of contracting the virus, Ms Shamsuddin, along with many others around the world, has been hit financially and has less spending power than before.
"In the early days of the pandemic, I was quite scared to go out. I am not so worried now, but I don't go out as much as before because I am struggling financially," said the mother of two, whose monthly salary has been cut by 20 per cent since April.
But despite the uncertain outlook for the retail industry due to the shrinking economy, increased online shopping, closed borders, and a glut of retail space, more giant glitzy malls are rising, and operators are upbeat about prospects.
One mall opening in 2022 is located in the Tun Razak Exchange (TRX), a financial district that was former premier Najib Razak's pet project, and is Malaysia's answer to Singapore's Marina Bay Financial Centre and London's Canary Wharf.
Linked to the controversial 1Malaysia Development Berhad scandal, it is also home to South-east Asia's tallest tower, Exchange 106, which opened last year.
The Exchange TRX mall will have 1.3 million sq ft of net lettable area - compared to 1.1 million for Singapore's biggest shopping centre, VivoCity.
"The Exchange is developed to be future-ready through design and technology to ensure heightened safety and health. Though there has been a fall in global growth, the International Monetary Fund is forecasting a rebound of 5.4 per cent in 2021," Mr Tony Lombardo, chief executive of Lendlease Asia, the developer of The Exchange TRX, told The Straits Times.
The mall, which will have 500 stores and food and beverage outlets as well as a 4ha rooftop park, is expected to draw on an estimated 45,000-strong workforce at the 28ha TRX development, which will also have 896 high-rise residential units by 2023.
It will be one MRT stop away from Bukit Bintang, where Pavilion KL mall is located, and two stops from the KLCC Suria shopping centre at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers.
Another two Pavilion malls, with 1.8 million sq ft and 1.17 million sq ft of retail space each, are set to open in Klang Valley over the next two years.
Despite the constant new openings, however, mall operators are confident that shoppers will come.
As the number of Covid-19 cases began to drop, movement restrictions have been lifted since May as businesses, schools, and other sectors were gradually allowed to resume operations under what was known as conditional movement control order (CMCO) and later, recovery MCO (RMCO), and retailers are slowly recovering as a result.
"For Sunway Malls, we are seeing footfall recovery in the 70 per cent range and sales in the 85 per cent range," Mr H.C. Chan, CEO of Sunway Malls and Theme Parks, which operates seven retail malls across Malaysia, told ST.
"We hope to see recovery grow to 80 per cent for footfall and 90 per cent for sales when the year-end festivity sets in, barring unforeseen circumstances," he added.
Pavilion Reit Malls, which operates Pavilion KL and two other malls in the Klang Valley, said its occupancy rates remain stable, and that Pavilion KL welcomed new stores, including luxury brands Dior and Karl Lagerfeld, in July.
Pavilion Reit has offered rental rebates for retailers and introduced free parking and other shopping incentives.
"Fortunately, we have seen more shoppers return to Pavilion Reit malls since the RMCO period," said Pavilion Reit Malls marketing director Kung Suan Ai.
Shoppers return not just to release pent-up demand, but also because the malls provide them with something to do besides shopping.
"Malls are a communal space for the community to socialise and spend quality time with family and friends and will continue to be such a place for us Malaysians. We are confident that quality shopping malls will continue to attract shoppers," she said.