‘When will our cash registers start ringing again?’

Sales at retail clothing stores in the capital are growing ahead of Eid, albeit at a snail’s pace.

Last Eid-ul-Fitr, people avoided shopping centres.

“But this time, people are coming out of their houses but the sales are not that much,” said Soumik Das, chief executive officer of Rang Bangladesh.

The brand has 24 stores in the big cities.

“Sometimes, we witness a good day with skyrocketing sales. But the next day it plunges to rock bottom and that is frustrating. Maybe this is called the ‘new normal’,” he said.

He blames people’s economic hardship for the depressing sales.

“Many people are sitting at home after losing their jobs due to the pandemic. How will they buy clothes?” said Das.

Since the sales usually pick up in the last week before Eid-ul-Azha, the real picture is yet to be ascertained. However, he will be happy if he can make even half of last year’s Eid sales.

“Our business is very good if you consider we are in the middle of a pandemic,” said Mohammad Ashraful Alam, chief executive officer of leading lifestyle brand Aarong.

He projected that their sales in Eid-ul-Azha would be 62 per cent to 65 per cent of what it was during last year’s festival.

The brand’s e-commerce segment is estimated to witness a sales rise of 250 per cent month-on-month in July.

The number of customers has increased in recent weeks as the stores have now been permitted to stay open for longer hours, he said.

To ensure social distancing, the brand is now allowing a limited number of customers to enter its stores based on capacity.

“There are about 65,000 artisans who make our products. They would be left with no income if Aarong cannot make sales. Even in the pandemic, we went ahead with our store opening plan to save their livelihoods,” Alam said.

On 25 July, Aarong opened a new 7,800 square feet store in Jessore, taking the total number of outlets of the brand to 21, in a testament to its firm position despite the pandemic.

Khalid Mahmood Khan, the co-founder of Kay Kraft and YOUNGKAY, is hopeful of good days making a comeback.

“Restrictions have recently been relaxed more so people are now going out after dusk and coming to stores. Even though sales are not what was expected, this change in people is giving us a ray of light to this dark hour of the business.”

However, there would be no quick recovery from the damage the virus caused to their business.

“Buyers need peace of mind at first and then they will think of splurging,” Khan said.

To lure in customers to Kay Kraft and YOUNGKAY’s 24 stores, the brands are providing a flat 20 per cent discount on all products.

Many others are offering discounts as much as 80 per cent, all to attract buyers and vacate warehouses.

But it all seems to be in vain.

According to industry insiders, most of the brands laid off many staff and halved salaries in a desperate attempt to survive.

It is the same scenario over at Banarasi Palli in Mirpur.

Spreading from Mirpur 10 to 11 and housing about 130 shops, the Mecca of saree lovers has a heritage tracing back to India’s 1947 partition.

“Sales is so low that most stores can’t pay the salaries of their employees, and some can’t even pay their electricity bills,” said Md Ziaul Haque, one of the owners of Benarashi Big Bazaar.

Last year, they sold about 50 sarees per day centring Eid, which has now nosedived to around only 10.

“The situation was even worse last month when two or three sarees could be sold every day,” he added.

The weavers of that area have not received any government support yet, according to shop owners.

Shop owner Kazi Kaiser said to have closed down a few months ago to open a grocery.

Md Sayeed, the owner of Munni Benarashi, says he was selling one or two sarees a day.

“Most of my handloom artisans left the profession during the pandemic. They are now getting involved in other businesses or activities to survive,” he said.

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