Malls in Puerto Rico use reservations app with people counter to limit traffic
The largest mall in the Caribbean has found a way to ensure that the number of shoppers complies with government guidelines regain the confidence of consumers that it's safe to enter, shop and dine.
Plaza Holdings deployed a reservations system app into its existing people-counting system that allowed its Plaza Las Americas in San Juan — the 1.9 million- sq.-ft. center is the largest in the Caribbean —and Plaza del Caribe in Ponce to reopen while assuring required social distancing (1 person per 100 sq. ft. during Phase 1 of reopening).
In addition, the system informed and reassured their trade areas of 1.5 million and 714,000 million people, respectively, that management was carefully monitoring entry so they could be comfortable returning to the malls. The result has been a successful phased reopening, with some sales exceeding 2019 levels, according to Jaime Luis Fonalledas, executive VP of the family-owned firm.
The two centers were closed on March 16 when Puerto Rico shuttered all nonessential retail. Plaza Holdings' ownership saw in April that as part of the reopening it would be critical to monitor visitation and regain shoppers' confidence by creating a reservations and communications system. Coincidentally, an app with basic information on both properties had soft-launched in January, so the team coordinated closely with app maker Express Image Digital to develop an innovative integration with the existing people counting system.
Both malls reopened on June 1. In the earliest days of reopening, shoppers reserved one of two four-hour blocks, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. The guest received a QR code, essentially a ticket, that was scanned at the entrance; he or she also had their temperature taken by security. The staff was reorganized and trained to check the codes and use the temperature scanners prior to reopening. Employees received a different QR code, entered through different doors and were temperature-checked daily as well.
Once inside the center, guests shopped and dined as usual - the app reminded them of their deadline a half hour prior to the end of their reservation.
Reservations are no longer required but are recommended, because if the center is at capacity, a walk-in guest will be denied admittance. A reservation guarantees entry. As capacity restrictions eased, the visitation time blocks were extended.
"Our goal has always been to provide a safe, comfortable and enjoyable experience for our guests," Fonalledas said. "During COVID-19, that meant finding an easy-to-use tool which complies with government requirements, maintains safe social distancing levels and keeps our shoppers informed. By adding this reservations system to our existing people counter, we accomplish all of it. And it will provide benefits to all of us for years to come."
The Plaza team promoted the app with a press conference held at the center, social media and radio, digital and television advertising. The company also hired a call center company to field queries about downloading and using the app. In less than a month, the center fielded more than 3,500 calls and nearly 500 text messages asking for assistance. The result was over 125,000 downloads during the first three weeks of the Phase 1 reopening, and a total of 130,000 so far.