The last two years have been an unprecedented stress test for the Philippines. The challenges caused by the pandemic were seemingly insurmountable, especially in the early part of 2020. But looking back, during the darkest of days, instead of wallowing in hopelessness, we chose to address our problems head-on, bravely and confidently.
We chose to be more agile, more innovative, and more responsive to the needs of our stakeholders and our kababayans. From the devastation wrought by the pandemic, we quickly sprang into action, rebuilding what we could, changing what was needed, and ultimately transforming for the better.
The key to recovery: Accessibility to COVID-19 vaccines
We hoped to hasten our recovery when we launched various COVID-19 programs in 2020 such as our Safe Malling at SM initiatives, giving jobs to displaced sectors and, together with our tenants and the Department of Agriculture, the Farmers’ Produce Markets Caravan. Because there were sporadic surges, we continued to help our country by donating hospital equipment and food packs and building COVID-19 facilities. Fortunately, we are led by a family who has always believed in contributing to a better tomorrow through shared prosperity and partnerships with all sectors of the community.
When news came about the development and availability of COVID-19 vaccines, our SM Prime co-chair, Mr. Hans Sy, saw a ray of hope for the future. With his guidance, we helped in the safe, convenient, and quick rollout of the government’s vaccination drive.
We were never in a wait-and-see mode during the past two years. We saw and felt the changes in shopping habits and consumer wants and needs, and we responded by evolving and innovating quickly — this being a part of the SM DNA.
However, the number of people who were willing to get vaccinated was very low — a major stumbling block in the country’s immunization drive. Misinformation about COVID-19 vaccination was rampant, and logistics and accessibility also hampered the country’s vaccine drive. These challenges created an added layer of complexity to what was already a monumental task.
This fueled us to act more swiftly and deliberately.
As early as the first quarter of 2021, we worked with local government units to open mall vaccination sites in areas where we operated. Our huge and well-ventilated event spaces were transformed into vaccination sites, complete with 24/7 generator access to maintain the cold chain storage of the vaccines, and with enough manpower provided to assist the government’s program. Our malls are ideal for mass programs such as this.
In March 2021, we opened our first mall vaccination site in Cavite. Neighboring cities and municipalities soon followed suit.
Opening two of the biggest vaccination sites in the country — the Giga Vaccination Center in Pasay and the Mega Vaccination Center in Mandaluyong — was a huge milestone for us. These sites could accommodate over 2,000 individuals daily — a major boost in hastening the vaccination rollout.
With the government’s vaccination drive in full swing, communicating with our fellow Filipinos about the necessity of the vaccination program had to be crafted clearly and accurately, to strengthen vaccine confidence and trust. We partnered with the T3 private-public sector group to educate the public about the benefits of vaccination. And with its compelling #IngatAngatBakunaLahat campaign, our messaging dovetailed with our already established Safe Malling campaign.
Aside from providing access to vaccination sites and communicating with the public, we encouraged fellow Filipinos to get vaccinated by offering rewards in the form of freebies and discounts through our Vax, Shop, and Dine program.
In no time, we achieved great results. We became the government’s largest private sector partner for its national vaccination program. At the end of June 2022, we had helped administer 10 million jabs in 75 SM malls nationwide — and the drive continues.
Community recovery became the main goal of SM Supermalls. Our strategies, which were once focused on driving shoppers to the malls through events and promos, shifted to us serving our diverse shoppers in meaningful ways.
A safer, revolutionized malling experience for Filipinos
As more and more citizens got vaccinated by the third quarter of 2021, the economy started opening up. We inched closer to a better and safer normal, as envisioned by Mr. Hans Sy when we first started the vaccination drive. Eventually, families started flocking back to our malls with their children and pets to experience a new and revitalized SM.
You see, we were never in a wait-and-see mode during the past two years. We saw and felt the changes in shopping habits and consumer wants and needs, and we responded by evolving and innovating quickly — this being a part of the SM DNA.
Many of our tenant partners pivoted their businesses to cater to new demands such as easy-to-heat take-home meals, sanitizers, health supplements, athleisure wear, sports equipment, comfort food, and home and garden essentials. And knowing that everyone wanted something new and different when they finally stepped out of their homes, we featured experiential retail in our malls.
For us to continue making malling a fun, safe, and convenient experience for all, we must have sustainability at the core of our business.
The new breed of shoppers, the Gen Z and the Alphas, are always on the lookout for something never before seen and experienced. This resulted in our al fresco dining parks and spaces, open-air pet parks, drive-through seasonal light shows, private cinemas, biker facilities, and the opening of more tech, health, wellness, and sports shops as well as home improvement and gardening kiosks.
We also fast-tracked our digital initiatives such as SM Malls Online, ShopSM, Viber communities, and personal shopper/pickup services. We partnered with third-party delivery fulfillment companies such as Grab, Lalamove, and other local and provincial rider services. All these were done so we could reach out to our homebound shoppers through as many online channels as possible.
We also tapped the small online business owners and began our Start-Up Market program in high-traffic malls. This helped budding online entrepreneurs to put up kiosks at SM without the burden of costly rental fees and construction costs.
Paving the way for a sustainable future in the retail industry
But while the pandemic rewrote the rules of the retail industry, another aspect that demanded change was the way we took care of the environment. For us to continue making malling a fun, safe, and convenient experience for all, we must have sustainability at the core of our business.
Our commitment to giving back to the planet was cemented and made our central thrust toward the future through the SM Green Movement, where all of SM is working together to give back to the planet.
The SM Green Movement is our contribution to building a resilient and sustainable nation. We want to make sure that sustainable living is easy by building an ecosystem of sustainable businesses, starting with our own SM Retail affiliates and their SM Green Finds Program where their commitment to green products, suppliers, and services outlines their business thrust moving forward.
Our path to sustainable growth has already been carved: bike lanes in SM malls, green products and services for our customers, implementation of green practices in our operations, and a newly established SM Sustainability School for those who want to kickstart their sustainability journey with us. We also recently launched the free E-Vehicle Charging Stations — a first of its kind in the Philippines. This further advances our Zero Emissions agenda, increasing the use of renewable energy to 50 percent by 2022 across all our business segments ahead of the national goal to be 35-percent renewable by 2030.
Thanks to the commitment of the government, our partners in the private sector, and every Filipino who decided to do good for our country by getting vaccinated, we are now seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.
As we create sustainability programs that will benefit our communities, we can add value to the lives of every single Filipino mallgoer and increase our chances of achieving a sustainable future.
We rise together, stronger than ever
In all of these, I realized that bouncing back from the negative and debilitating effects of the pandemic is better done together — that we rise stronger than ever when we are one.
Thanks to the commitment of the government, our partners in the private sector, and every Filipino who decided to do good for our country by getting vaccinated, we are now seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. The end to this crisis is closer today more than ever. Together, we have helped our country emerge from one of its greatest challenges yet, and together we are rebuilding our economy and reclaiming the promise of a brighter, more prosperous future.