A fleeting respite for shop owners

Malls and markets have been registering large gatherings of Eid shoppers since reopening on July 15, providing a much-needed respite to stores to make some sales in a season marked by a depressed business.


Retailers said the reopening and scope to do business for six days before Eid-ul-Azha would at least give them a scope to bear rents, wages and bonuses for employees to celebrate one of the two biggest religious festivals for Muslims.


However, sales figures will in no way be equal to that logged by businesses during the same time last year, they said.


Overall sales may be 40 per cent of the previous year's total sales, said Mohammad Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association.


"The scope to keep shops open has saved us from collapse," he said.


Although the sales of sacrificial animals dominate the mood, and several million animals are traded during this festival, businesses say Eid-ul-Azha is the third-biggest sales season for fashion and clothing retailers.


For electronics sellers, the festival accounts for the highest sales as consumers buy refrigerators, freezers, televisions and air conditioners. The demand for mobile handsets, motorcycles and furniture also goes up. Usually, sales begin nearly three weeks prior to Eid-ul-Azha. However, the Covid-19-related movement restrictions since June 28 took away the scope for traders to do business.


The resumption gave a relief.


"We are getting a good response from the customers after the restrictions were lifted. We are trying to recover as much of the business as we can," said Saikat Azad, marketing manager of Transcom Electronics, one of the leading electronics retailers in Bangladesh.


The official expected to recover up to 80 per cent of the business this Eid.


"In the Covid-19 situation, we are focusing more on the online sales," he added.


Mohammad Ashraful Alam, chief operating officer of Aarong, one of the popular stores, said they had good sales in the last two days.


"Customers are visiting our outlets by strictly following our instructions and helping us maintain Covid-19 safety protocols. We are expecting better sales before Eid," he said.


With a wide range of products, including clothes, Aarong operates 21 outlets across the country.


Whatever is being sold, it can be said that at least something is better than nothing.


"The sales ahead of Eid-ul-Azha this year are not comparable with the sales in the previous year," said Khalid Mahmood Khan, director of Kay Kraft, a fashion brand.


Arfanul Hoque, head of retail at Bata, said the shoemaker could register some sales. "Now 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the customers who used to come before Covid-19 are coming in for Eid-ul-Azha."


In the case of mobile handsets, sales have more than doubled this year compared to usual business days, said Mohammad Mesbah Uddin, chief marketing officer of Fair Electronics, the local assembler of mobile handsets and home appliances of Korean electronics giant Samsung.


"However, we may be able to reach 30-40 per cent of our home appliance sales target. Only refrigerator sales are going very well," he said.


For motorcycle sellers, the reopening brought good news.


FH Ansarey, managing director and CEO of ACI Motors, said motorcycle sales rose significantly after showrooms opened.


"We hope to sell as many as 3,000 motorcycles in the six days before Eid," he said.


The two-wheeler is particularly popular among students, young people and motorcycle enthusiasts. And as usual, manufacturers introduced various promotional offers to attract buyers during this Eid festival.


However, the sales of furniture had not been good.


"Furniture is not an essential product. The state of the business is not so good. Some customers have been coming after the reopening. But it has not been better than normal times," said Selim H Rahman, managing director of Hatil.


However, shops and outlets did not see to it that the initiatives to maintain hygiene were being abided by. For example, markets did not have customers checked for their temperatures at the entrances alongside being sprayed with disinfectants. There is also indifference to wearing masks or maintaining social distancing.


MH Chowdhury Lenin, chairman of the Health and Hope Hospital, said it was not the right decision for the government to allow shops to reopen.


"The Covid-19 pandemic situation will get worse," he added.


He said all the government's directives had been limited to paperwork. The government needed to think more before deciding on lifting the restrictions on everything for seven days, said Lenin, who follows public health issues.


Strict restrictions will be reinstated for two weeks from July 23. Shops and outlets will remain closed at that time. 

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