Shopping malls have reopened and the government’s decision in this regard has brought more than a sigh of relief to entrepreneurs in the fashion industry. They now at least have 20 days before Eid and are determined to make the most of it.
Coronavirus dashed all hopes of brisk Baishakh and Eid sales last year and the brands are now going all out to make up for those losses. In fact, when things began to look up in December, they injected additional investment in their businesses, in hope of better days ahead. But the stringent lockdown had them reeling in despair once again. Even the lax lockdown had put a dampener on the Baishakh bazaar. Everyone grasped at online sales as the last straw.
Despite the steady expansion in size and scope of virtual shopping, this can in no way come near to actual shopping in person. In fact, BRAC Enterprise’s managing director Tamara Abed calls this just a drop in the ocean.
Presently, the annual turnover of the fashion industry is around Tk 100 billon (Tk 10,000 crore). And at least 50 per cent of this comes from Eid sales. With no business last season, many businesses cut down on their outlets. At least 30 per cent of the workers in this industrial sector were laid off. Some enterprises cut wages instead of jobs. Then again, some brands neither laid their workers off not cut wages, despite the crisis. But if business does not pick up this Eid, they will be obliged to follow suit.
However, with the shops opening up in time, Tamara Abed thanks the government, saying this decision will salvage the industry from massive losses. Most entrepreneurs have also asked for longer opening hours in order to avoid the inevitable crowds in shortened shopping timings.
Chief executive officer of Sailor, Rezaul Kabir, pointed out that people don’t go shopping in the mornings. During the lax lockdown, there was only a 15 per cent turnout of shoppers till 2:00pm. But between 3:00pm and 5:00pm, this was 85 per cent. So with longer hours, it will be easier to ensure the health and hygiene guidelines and manage the customers.
When everything was opened up before last Eid for a few days, all the businesses tried to ensure the health and hygiene regimen. They will try the same this time too, believes Kay Kraft director Khalid Mahmud Khan.
When China lifted its lockdown and people thronged to the shopping malls in hordes, experts coined this as ‘revenge shopping.’ Suffocated by the long lockdown, the people burst and spend recklessly in excess. It is as if they are seeking justice for the year that the pandemic stole
Whether it is a strike or a pandemic, the retail and the transport business are the first to be hit in the country. Yet large numbers of people depend on these two sectors, said Anjan’s CEO Shaheen Ahmad. But they are a bit relieved with the lockdown being relaxed.
Consumer curiosity and actual purchase
Like last time, everyone was cooped up at home during this lockdown. There were many who did their shopping digitally. Other than the brand regulars, many irregular shoppers also displayed consumer curiosity. But they accounted for 15 to 40 per cent of the purchases of various brands.
A large chunk of the consumers display interest in discounts and sales. Many businesses directly contact these inquisitive customers and manage to persuade them to purchase their products. However, it is observed that most buyers browse online, but wait for the shops to open.
Physical vs. digital
Online sales has stepped up in the last few years and last year this increase was quite significant. Aarong earned twice as much online during Eid last year that it did in 2019. It was more or less the same for the other brands too. But it still can’t compare to sales at the outlets. In fact, it is just around 2 to 5 per cent of the total turnover.
“It is not possible to run the business based on online sales,” said Shaheen Ahmad, “One day’s online sales is not equal to a day’s sale at even in one of our medium sized outlets.”
Senior sales and marketing executive of Red Origin, SM Saifur Kabir, feels that the lack of economic equilibrium had held back the advancement of e-commerce.
A significance emergence in online sales, though, is the increase in number of expatriate Bangladeshis. Aarong quite some time back expanded to US market and over the past few months, to the UK and Australia too. The response from all three of these countries has been encouraging, said Tamara Abed.
But businesses without these benefits are at a loss. Those with just one or two outlets, carefully chalk out their annual plans and are still dependent on their shops. They do not have virtual facilities. KB Al Azad Promad, the proprietor of Shatabdi Fashions, faces such a predicament and looks at an uncertain future.
Who’s buying what?
It is interesting to look into who is buying what in these times. Most of the shoppers are relatively young, between 18 and 35. There are a few of the middle-age bracket. But everyone is exercising a degree of caution.
Almost everyone said they were restricting their expenditure to just Tk 2000 to Tk 5000, with the occasional exception of big spending. They are leaning more towards regular clothing, like shirts and pants, rather than festive outfits. Parents are prone to buying their children’s clothes first. Whether there are festivities or not, they buy their children’s outfits in advance to keep them happy, said senior marketing office of Rise, Syed Helal Hossain.
Shoppers normally go panjabi shopping after the 15 Ramadan. First children’s shopping is done, then women’s and then men’s. But some brands are quite optimistic about panjabi sales this Eid.
Accessories have taken a back seat this time, except when it comes to Aarong. It has good accessory sales, though clothes make up70 per cent of its sales.
Designer brand House of Ahmed’s co-owner Tanzila Elma is quite upbeat about business, saying they are seeing brisk sales of their panjabis, saris and shalwar kameezes too.
Shopping is not just the forte of Dhaka, Chattogram, Sylhet and the bigger cities, but the small mofussil towns are picking up sales too. Virtual orders are coming in from Khagrachhari, Rangamati, Satkhira, Chuadanga, Pabna and other districts and upazilas.
Delivering the goods
Parallel to receiving online orders, there is the task of delivering the goods. Management of the delivery service is not quite up to the mark. Some enterprises are unable to have their own delivery service and so the pressure is on a handful of such services. They are having to juggle a deluge of orders and so the shopper does not always receive the product on time.
Ironically, Aarong has observed, sometimes products reach the US quicker than these reach Chattogram or Cox’s Bazar!
The lack of an efficient delivery service is a common crisis for the suppliers. As e-commerce expands, the demand grows for a disciplined delivery service. This service is being seen as a promising sector in the emerging times.
There was no stimulus for this sector so Eid sales are their beacon of hope. For the fashion industry, the silver lining to the coronavirus crisis is that people don’t have the scope to go abroad for Eid shopping.
Govt losing revenue
In normal circumstances, this is the time when the government rakes in a good amount of revenue. VAT itself amounts to around Tk 4 billion (Tk 400 crore) during Eid shopping. Then there is income tax. But with shops closed, the revenue flow dwindles too.
Foreign products rule
Even in these coronavirus times, foreign goods dominate the market. These are sold via Facebook. How do these items enter the country in these times. Dekko-Isho Group director Maimoona Hossain said under the circumstances, everyone should be encouraged to buy local products. Many families are involved in a local outfit. From the fabric to the design, the sewing to the sales –people are involved in every step. They are all in a crisis.
A large fashion house had set aside Tk 5 million (Tk 50 lakh) to buy iftar because additional staff was to be hired along with the regulars. In fact most houses had such plans. Shopping bag suppliers, transport workers and many small traders await the year round for this time. Last year they saw no business. This time too they sat idle for 10 days. When the lockdown was relaxed to an extent, smiles crept onto their faces, albeit cautious smiles.
And not to be forgotten in the world of fashion – the models, choreographers, makeup artists, beauticians, photographers – all of them are struggling under the impact of coronavirus.
Revenge buying, revenge shopping
Coronavirus is introducing us to something new every day. We are learning new terms. Last year when China lifted its lockdown and people thronged to the shopping malls in hordes, experts coined this as ‘revenge shopping.’ Some call it ‘revenge buying’. Suffocated by the long lockdown, the people burst and spend recklessly in excess. It is as if they are seeking justice for the year that the pandemic stole.
The restrictions have lifted partially on the shopping malls, but a clear market analysis hasn’t been possible as yet. There are diverse opinions. La Reve’s CEO Monnujan Nargis feels that people are not all that scared and so when the lockdown is lifted, they will come out and shop. Grameen Uniqlo’s manager, marketing, Md Shariful Islam hopes the people will go on a revenge shopping spree because last year they were totally deprived of shopping.
Khalid Mahmud Khan, however, is doubtful about how much people will shop as there is a sense of despondency. Brand manager of Myth, Md Shabbir Newaz, feels the same way. He feels people will buy with caution because the condition of those affected by corona in the second wave, has been deteriorating rapidly. Medical costs are high too and so people may be conservative in their spending.
Many small ancillary industries crop up around the fashion sector. They all look forward to better days ahead. It is hard to determine how long it will take to cover the losses or last year. There was no stimulus for this sector so Eid sales are their beacon of hope. For the fashion industry, the silver lining to the coronavirus crisis is that people don’t have the scope to go abroad for Eid shopping. Everyone will have to shop within the country. Let this golden jubilee of independence be a golden opportunity to revive our loyalty to local products.
*This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir