Covid-19 Exclusives: Upgrading Penang’s Shopping Possibilities

loading A key feature of the 646,000 sq ft complex is St. Jo’s, originally a chapel-turned-international school. The building was restored and integrated into the Gurney Paragon development at a cost of close to RM10mil.

THE SHOPPING MALLS Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon along the popular Gurney Drive seafront promenade form the backbone of Penang’s luxury tourism. They cater to the fancies of deep-pocketed tourists, housing a collection of high-end designer labels the likes of Chanel, Tory Burch, Kate Spade and Michael Kors.

The newer of the two, Gurney Paragon Mall was established in 2013. Core to its positioning as a premier shopping destination that targets the medium to upper class demographic, the mall is home to 25 first-time premier brands to date including Chow Tai Fook, Lush, Polo Ralph Lauren and Swiss Watch Gallery; and well-known restaurant chains like PUTIEN (its branch along Kitchener Road, Singapore was awarded one Michelin Star), and Haidilao.

Cultivating a Brand of Luxury

The process of securing luxury brands in the mall begins apparently with selecting and reviewing those that align with Gurney Paragon’s positioning. Points of consideration for the management include compatible brand positioning, tenant mix and product variety that can adapt to ongoing market trends, different price points that cater to various markets, and a robust offline and online presence to ensure maximum consumer outreach and accessibility.

“We have no intention of copying other malls in the existing market – we like to always bring in something new and exclusive to the northern region,” says Koay Bee Fong, the chief operating officer for the retail division of Hunza Properties, which manages the shopping mall and office tower of Gurney Paragon.

“We look beyond Malaysia and source exclusive or wellestablished foreign brands within Asia (e.g. Hong Kong, Singapore and China) to bring in new retail experiences and investment opportunities to Penang.”

Upon identifying the brands, the terms of tenancy which are negotiated include location, rental, and commencement date. Koay notes that, given the current market condition in the aftermath of Covid-19, the mall’s priority lies in establishing confidence in anchor tenants so that a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship can be achieved. Arrangements in this regard include providing rental support and implementing strict SOPs to ensure the mall’s safety and to capitalise on the keen interests of these brands in the Penang market.

Completing Gurney Paragon’s brand of luxury are the myriad value-added components, including BookXcess that sells remaindered books.

Completing Gurney Paragon’s brand of luxury are the myriad value-added components, such as fitness and wellness centre Oxygen Fitness, TGV cinema with IMAX theatre, family entertainment centre, art galleries (Ming Fine Art recently opened their second branch at the heritage site St. Jo’s) and pop-up stores, all of which inject variety into the conventional mall model and cater to various demographic interests. On the face of it, the presence of Gurney Plaza next to Gurney Paragon may seem to pose direct competition on its consumer base and business operations. But Khor Tze Ming, group executive director of Hunza Properties, points out that both the malls co-exist in a win-win environment where their retail options complement one another, and do not overlap.

“We’ve been able to enhance the shopping experiences of Penangites by providing more choices,” says Khor. “More people can easily travel between both complexes. It is through this complementary approach that the northern region of Penang has become more robust than ever.”

Spreading the Word

To draw in more customers, various communicative and marketing strategies are employed. Among them are the retail loyalty programme in the form of Gurney Paragon Cards and the Gurney Paragon Mall App, where members accumulate and redeem loyalty points for rewards, as well as enjoy various perks and value-added experiences.

During scheduled periods, the mall also holds Members’ Appreciation Day to strengthen its relationship with its consumer base. With the coming of the new mall, Penang International Commercial City (PICC), a new loyalty programme will be developed that incorporates both Gurney Paragon Mall and PICC Mall into a unified ecosystem.

Gurney Paragon also regularly runs promotions to drive new footfall and encourage spending; for example, “Twosday” has been immensely successful in attracting customers to frequent the food and beverage outlets in Gurney Paragon.

The mall also hosts signature annual events like Penang Fashion Week, Penang state-endorsed events (e.g. the Penang Coffee & Desserts Festival), as well as major festive celebrations (e.g. the New Year countdown).

Digital Onboarding

In line with the State Government’s Penang2030 vision to establish Penang as a smart city, Gurney Paragon has forged ahead in upgrading its use of technology to improve patrons’ retail experiences. The Gurney Paragon Mall App, for example, is available on both Android and Apple devices for shoppers to partake in the retail loyalty programme as an extension of their shopping experiences.

More importantly, the app gathers data that allow for deeper insights into the spending patterns, demand cycles and interests of the shoppers. Gurney Paragon will also soon be venturing into cashless and ticketless parking, and will encourage transactions via e-wallets in the food court. Not only is this safe and environmentally friendly, it also yields better understanding of consumer behaviour without being intrusive.

Navigating the Storm

To instil a sense of safety and comfort, additional measures have been implemented such as setting up a task force and emergency communication to address Covid-19-related matters in a timely manner.

During the early phases of the MCO, savings on operational costs were minimal as most services and utilities were still running to keep the mall environment ready and comfortable for shoppers doing the rounds for essential items.

However, since Gurney Paragon’s reopening during the Recovery MCO, these operational costs have increased due to various safety measures and SOPs in alignment with state and federal regulations.

“Ever since Penang’s first Covid-19 case, we’ve alerted our personnel to be on standby and enforce measures to ensure that the mall is clean and safe for all customers,” says Khor. Among the SOPs that have been put in place include limiting access points into the mall, increasing frequency of cleaning before, during and after operation hours at all touch-points and areas of high traffic, and fully sanitising the mall on a periodic basis.

“We are glad that footfall has rebounded faster than we had expected,” says Khor. “Instead of foreign tourists, we are now drawing local visitors from other states under Cuti-Cuti Malaysia.”

Looking ahead, Khor is confident about the continued significance of malls in the tourism industry. “Humans are social animals – we crave interaction and connection with other people. Shopping malls today are like our second home, where we get together for a wide array of activities. As long as malls retain their relevance as social hubs, retail will continue to be the driver of our daily lives.”

Ernest Mah is currently pursuing his Master’s in English Language Studies at Universiti Malaya. A member of the varsity debating team, he loves singing, enjoys speaking and writing, and dreams of becoming the Malaysian Ryan Seacrest.

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