Bangladesh's largest apparel market, in terms of countries, the United States of America (US), has been recovering from the slowdown amid Covid-19, thanks to rocketing retail sales online.
Simultaneously, online apparel sales in the United Kingdom (UK), another major market for Bangladesh, are also rising, to which industry players expressed happiness, saying the opening of both markets is a good signal for Bangladeshi garment factories.
A strong rebound of apparel sales on the US retail market has also helped to continue the acceleration of its growth rate in September for the fourth straight month year-over-year, reported Just-style, a UK based online portal.
Apparel retailers reported a double-digit surge in sales during the month, with the segment reporting the steepest month-on-month increase.
According to data released by the US Census Bureau, sales at clothing stores increased by 11% month-on-month but were down over 12 year-over-year.
Overall, retail sales during the month were up by nearly 2% seasonally adjusted from August and by over 5% year-over-year. That was more than triple the 0.6% month-on-month increase and almost double the 2.8% year-over-year increase in August.
Sales have grown both month-on-month and year-over-year each month since June this year, following record monthly drops in sales during spring, March to May, in the USA.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh's apparel exports decreased by 14.5% in the first eight months of this year although the country still holds a good position compared to its competitor countries.
China's garment exports to the US market have nearly halved while India's and Mexico's fell by one-third, Indonesia's by nearly 21% and Vietnam's by about 10%.
As a result, Bangladesh has emerged as the second least-losing country among the five nations in garment exports. The US imported 57% of its apparel from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, and Mexico during January-August this year, according to the Office of Textiles and Apparel (OTEXA) data.
Bangladesh outperformed Mexico and China to become the largest denim exporter to the United States in the first half of this year though export proceeds dropped from what they were a year ago, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Retailers are no doubt benefiting from pandemic-induced spending shifts away from personal services, concerts, sporting events, travel, leisure, and vacations that are either unavailable or deemed unsafe by consumers
Industry insiders said the over 50% loss in apparel exports by Mexico and China to the US market during the period helped Bangladesh reach first place.
They expect Bangladesh will retain its top position in the US as the two major suppliers have been facing different challenges.
Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics, noted that retailers are no doubt benefiting from pandemic-induced spending shifts away from personal services, concerts, sporting events, travel, leisure, and vacations that are either unavailable or deemed unsafe by consumers, reported Just-style.
UK online apparel sales rose in September
Online clothing sales growth in the UK rose for a third consecutive month in September as shoppers sought out cold-weather clothing – but online demand for footwear continued to fall.
The clothing sector, which is among those hardest hit by the lockdown restrictions, saw a 7.9% year-on-year rise in sales in comparison to last month's 6.8% increase, according to the latest IMRG Capgemini Online Retail Index, which tracks the online sales performance of over 200 retailers.
The rise was perhaps a nod to the seasonal change and included encouraging growth for menswear sales, which were up by 20.5% year-on-year against a year-to-date average of -10.3%.
As lockdown restrictions were reintroduced throughout September, online sales overall returned to patterns that would be expected during this time of the year.
"We did good business during the June to September period. Currently, new orders are going slow. This may be due to the seasonal issue. The order situation usually remains dull during this time of the year," said Fazlee Shamim Ehsan, chief executive officer at Fatullah Apparels Ltd.
He also mentioned that apparel exporters are also receiving new orders for the next summer, but the quantity is lower compared to the same time of last year.
Most brands and retailers still have some products in their stocks as the Covid-19 pandemic affected their business last summer.
Customers' buying habits also have changed because of the pandemic, he noted, adding that now a large number of customers are buying products from online stores instead of going to shops in person.
The trend started a few years ago, but the pandemic has led to the emergence of a good number of online marketplaces
"The trend started a few years ago, but the pandemic has led to the emergence of a good number of online marketplaces, said Fazlee Shamim Ehsan.
The world's second largest fashion retailer, H&M has announced it plans to shut 250 stores globally in the next year, as the Covid-19 pandemic has moved more shoppers to online.
Meanwhile, US Sportswear brand Nike has seen an 82% growth in digital sales in the June-August quarter. The brand expects a permanent shift to online.
Fashion brand Lululemon Athletica posted a 157% jump in its online business in the second quarter of 2020, while another Sports fashion brand Adidas also saw good business trends in online seals in August.
Good sales in September do not mean that the market has recovered. If this growth trend continues for the next three months, only then can we say the market is going to recover to make the business sustainable
"Good sales in September do not mean that the market has recovered. If this growth trend continues for the next three months, only then can we say the market is going to recover to make the business sustainable," said Fazlul Haque, managing director of Plummy Fashions Ltd – the greenest knitwear factory in the world.
A number of large brands are struggling on the US market, he added.
"We are getting a better response from buyers now but it is not like that of the pre-Covid period," said the former president of the Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association, that has business with three leading US brands.