The Government revealed today that malls and shops would reopen under level 2, but there's a catch.
The mall experience won't be the same as it was before the Covid-19 crisis disrupted commerce across the world.
Larger retail stores and shopping malls will be required to "follow the lead of supermarkets" once they are permitted to open under Alert level 2, under conditions which include ensuring social distancing of two metres away from strangers and the implementation of good hygiene practices.
In a press conference this afternoon, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the restrictions around trading in shops and malls. She said retailers will be required to limit the number of people in stores.
"For retail, that means physical distancing in store for both staff and customers, it means good hygiene practices and regular cleaning of surfaces and those things people touch often. Larger retailers and malls will follow the lead of our supermarkets with measures like limiting the number of people in store to enable enough space for physical distancing," Arden said.
These rules will also affect the hospitality industry.
Ardern recommended an approach dubbed the three S's. This involves ensuring that customers have seats, can be separated safely from others and that every table has a single server.
This, in turn, means that customers should not be allowed to go to the counter to pay after a meal at their local restaurant. Payment should be taken at the table.
These rules will leave the nation's bars in a tough position because they are usually occupied by standing patrons.
Ardern warned that businesses that do not abide by the rules will be closed down.
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Retail NZ welcomed the move to allow stores to open under level 2.
While it has not been announced when New Zealand will move to level 2, Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the announcement was positive news for the sector, but warned it wouldn't mean business as usual.
"The retail sector is keen to get doors open again as soon as possible," Harford told the Herald.
"There will certainly be a bounce back in sales [under level 2] but it won't be to the levels of trading that we saw pre-lockdown. Customers are still going to be very cautious about getting out into shops but they can be assured that retailers will be doing their very best to have processes and systems in place to maintain good hygiene."
Many retailers had already sorted Paywave and other contactless payment options to be available within stores ahead of re-opening, Harford said.
Retail NZ has been calling for physical stores to be permitted to open under level 3 lockdown, similarly to how Australia has allowed physical trade to continue.
Harford said the length of store closures to date had exacerbated what was already a "carnage situation" within the sector. Retail sales were down 80 per cent during Alert level 4 and were down 79.8 per cent in April. "Even when stores open it won't be business as usual for a very long time and it will take retail businesses and hospitality businesses an extraordinary long time to recover from what has happened over the past couple of weeks."
Marisa Bidois, chief executive of the Restaurant Association, said restaurants and cafes had welcomed the news of dining out being permitted under level 2.
For some bars and nightclubs, however, the restrictions meant it was not likely these would open under the downgraded restrictions.
"Some bars, where they do have adequate seating; they'll have to move to a table service situation, but for nightclubs, I don't see how they can be operating following the three S's outlined."
The association would seek clarification on how and if bars would be able to operate safely under level 2, and operating in line with the three S's for all hospitality venues would mean fewer staff working at one time, she said.
"We knew there was going to be restrictions on level 2 and this is in line with some of what we were expecting to see. There were some differences though, and these were around having to have everyone seated within an establishment, so we'll need to work through these details and will put together a comprehensive guideline for the industry."
Retail analyst Chris Wilkinson said the Government's move to allow domestic tourism to open up under level 2 was good news for retailers and hospitality venues as it would encourage people to get out and enjoy experiences again.
"People will be reprioritising spending that may have been [spent on] overseas travel, there are also more limitations in the hospitality sector so we could see that spend swing back towards retail."
Wilkinson said property owners would also be relieved to see their shopping centres re-open under level 2.
"Whilst we will likely see a bounce of people back into stores and spending, there is a universal concern about the long term performance of retail."
Retailers were now tasked with making their stores inviting and a pleasant experience while keeping inline with social distancing rules. He warned retailers of making their store experience scary or over sterile.
"There's a window of opportunity right now for businesses, as people come back in, to make sure that they will be a future choice for consumers as there will be less spending going forward; its important they use this situation wisely and give people the best experience they possibly can.
"Make sure stores are welcoming ... it's interesting how various different businesses are interpreting the requirements. For example, comparing the differences between the Green Cross pharmacies at the moment ... to walking into Countdown."
Kiwi Property, the owner and operator of eight shopping centres throughout the country, including Auckland's Sylvia Park, said it was looking forward to reopening its centres.
Linda Trainer, head of retail at Kiwi Property, said its shopping centres would introduce a number of measures to limit the numbers of people gathered in one place and ensure social distancing.
"Alert levels 3 and 4 have been tough on many of our tenants, and they're looking forward
to resuming trading. We're working together to provide a safe shopping and working
experience for our retailers and their customers," Trainer said.
"Research from Perceptive shows that feeling safe is shoppers' number one priority when
returning to shopping centres post-lockdown; 22 per cent of respondents said that social distancing and crowd management was their key requirement, while 18 per cent said regular cleaning was important."
Additional staff will be deployed to the entrances and exits of Kiwi Property shopping centres to ensure social distancing, hand sanitisers would be placed throughout the centres and cleaning programmes would be "intensified".
Social distancing measures would be implemented for seating within its food courts and the properties would be sanitised by spray, the company said.
Craig Garner, chief executive of Business Mentors NZ, said the move to level 2 would not permit retailers and hospitality venues to return to trading prior to the pandemic.
Garner said the move would permit more businesses to resume trading.
"It's a case of short term pain, longer term benefits," Garner told the Herald. "For a lot of businesses the landscape has changed permanently, businesses will have to find a new normal and many businesses have founded improved ways of doing things, like being more digitally enabled, but it is not going to be a short term recovery.
"The impact of job losses and a return to consumer confidence will change and slow things for a while."
Xero New Zealand managing director Craig Hudson said for many small retailers and businesses the move to Alert level 2 would mean increase costs to operate in line with health and safety measures.
The loosening of restrictions would also be a welcomed feat for small operators in the travel sector, Hudson said.
"Now that we have clarity on what level 2 looks like we can really start the economy back up again and businesses can start getting back into what they love."
Hudson said the trajectory for recovery would be a "U curve" as opposed to a "V curve", and that the economy would return to new a normal, not what it was pre-Covid-19.