The holy festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha and Durga Puja along with the Bengali New Year account for bulk of sales in Bangladesh when shopping centres, fashion houses, boutiques and retail outlets look forward to make the most of the opportunities as people around the country indulge in shopping and gifting to near and dear ones to celebrate the occasion.
However, the last two years have been very dull for the Bangladesh fashion retail sector thanks to the Coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 engulfed the whole of Bangladesh, as it did the other countries across the globe, the Bangladesh Government put in place various restrictions including countrywide lockdowns to rein in the rogue virus, ordering malls, shops, business establishments and everything else to shut down even as people scurried to the safety of their homes amidst fear of contracting the dreaded disease.
As may be expected, festivities took a backseat even as brands and retailers had a harrowing time just to survive and sustain. However, as physical stores took a major hit, e-commerce in Bangladesh grew massively in the last one-and-a-half-year or so as the pandemic induced restrictions and lockdowns led general people to depend on the e-commerce platforms to cater to their day-to-day requirements even if, call it the lack of checks and balances or something else, many unscrupulous e-commerce entrepreneurs took advantage of this new-found popularity of the online marketplaces to amass wealth for themselves by swindling the customers even as reports suggest many resorting to large-scale cheating and money laundering, amongst which were some renowned and big names as well, that came to light following customers approaching the courts and other concerned authorities with allegations of being cheated, which made the Government to wake up and smell the coffee.
It is a different story though that given the magnitude of the problem, the Government had to intervene to sort things out and give a proper direction to the burgeoning e-commerce sector. In the meanwhile, as COVID-19 cases started coming down and Bangladesh kick-started massive vaccination drives, malls and shops, which have had a dismal year or so, sprung back to life again and more so with the approaching festival of Durga Puja, on the horizon!
Usually, many people go to India to do shopping ahead of the festival; this has not been possible this time because of the pandemic, claimed Monira Emdad, Owner of fashion store Tangail Saree Kutir in Dhaka, who went on to add the sales of saris were much higher this year compared to the previous years.
It may be mentioned here that making a round trip to India, especially Kolkata is rather famous amongst the shoppers in Bangladesh, thousands of whom throng shops and malls, including in areas like Mirza Ghalib Street, Mallik Bazar, Belgachhia, New Market, Chitpur, Tullyganj, Entaly, Anowar Shah Road, Rajabazar, Park Circus, Metiaburuz, Khidirpur, Park Street, Chitpur’s Zakaria Street and Dharmatola’s Tipu Sultan mosque premises to buy for family and friends during the festive occasions like Eid and Durga Puja with renowned brands, retailers and shops in and around Kolkata including Big Bazar, Sree Leathers, Khadim, South City malls, etc., offering discount on various products.
However, as cross-border travelling took a hit owing to COVID-19, people preferred to buy from Bangladesh itself, which perhaps gave a further boost to sales before Durga Puja.
“People are buying clothing items and other accessories. This has had a positive impact on the business,” claimed Khalid Mahmood Khan, Co-founder of Kay Kraft, a retailer of fashion wear, accessories, home textile, handicrafts, and handloom-based products, speaking to the media in the run up to Durga Puja, who further added that presence of shoppers had increased while underlining sales was low last year due to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, interacting with the media, Soumik Das, Manager of Rang Bangladesh, a fashion house, said the domestic fashion industry had been in a bad situation for the last two years, while adding, “People are shopping on the occasion of Durga Puja. As a result, our sales have gone up.”
Similar has been the case of another homegrown brand SaRa Lifestyle, which reportedly introduced a number of new clothing items focusing on the festival.
“Our outlets are posting higher sales,” reportedly claimed SaRa Director Sharifunnesa Reba, who underlined that Eid accounts for about 70 per cent of the retail sales in Bangladesh, while the rest take place during Pohela Boishakh and Durga Puja.
From the house of renowned garment exporting entity Snowtex Group, SaRa started its journey in Bangladesh in 2018 with a grand opening as SaRa Lifestyle Ltd even as the brand opened its first branch in Mirpur, Dhaka, only to expand later with its prime objective to create a positive image in fashion and its aim to deliver quality garments in affordable price to its customers.
The sales at most of the fashion houses in the market are good, claimed Owner of Lanthon Fashion House, Ujjwal Das, whose shop is one amongst the many fashion houses in the Aziz Cooperative Super Market in the capital’s Shahbagh, most of which reportedly did brisk business in the run up to the Durga Puja as the presence of students, who make up a majority of its customer base, has received a boost after the reopening of educational institutions following lengthy closures.
Even if the local brands and fashion houses claimed to have done decent business ahead of Durga Puja, not much has been reported as far as overseas/multi-national fashion retailers are concerned, as their numbers are not very substantial yet in Bangladesh even though some sportswear/footwear brands like Puma and Decathlon have their strong presence in Bangladesh.
Speaking of footwear, Arfanul Hoque, Head of Retail at Bata, which is a multinational footwear and fashion accessory manufacturer and retailer in Bangladesh, reportedly claimed the consumer sentiment was high on the occasion of Puja while underlining that even though sales had picked up after the economy reopened, it was yet to return to the pre-pandemic level.
Sales are at 70 per cent of the pre-crisis level, reportedly underlined the head of retail at Bata, which suffered losses for the first time in 59 years of operations in Bangladesh as it had to shutter outlets during the main sales seasons amid the Coronavirus outbreak even as the multinational company, which launched operations here in 1962 in the then East Pakistan, saw its sales dip by 41 per cent, or Taka 350 crore, year-on-year to Taka 508 crore in 2020 from Taka 857 crore as the earnings took a drastic fall due to the loss of retail business during 2020’s major festivals — Eid-ul-Fitr, Eid-ul-Azha, Durga Puja and Pohela Baishakh — due to a countrywide lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic even as its festival sales reportedly cover 25 to 30 per cent of the company’s yearly business. Even leather goods manufacturers claim they sell goods in bulk quantities only on a handful of occasions around the year such as Eid-ul-Fitr, Pohela Baishakh, Eid-ul-Azha and Durga Puja.
And lucky as it has been for them, this time around Durga Puja was close to being normal.
Going by the views as shared by the brands and retailers, it would perhaps not be wrong to maintain that sales are getting back to normal once again and all one could hope is there’s no fresh breakout of the COVID-19 pandemic again, as is being witnessed in some parts of West now.