Amidst the life-versus-livelihood dilemma, Bangladesh has allowed businesses to reopen their retail outlets from Sunday.
The gradual return of retail – after 45 days of a shutdown – despite the rising Covid-19 infection rate, is partly due to the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr. The religious holiday is the largest spending occasion for Bangladeshi families.
Almost all the top shopping malls in large cities have decided not to reopen before Eid, while lifestyle, electronics, and automobile brands have opted for opening. Of course, they are required to comply with all health safety guidelines for social distancing and sanitation.
Around 90 percent of retail outlets remained closed on Sunday, estimates Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners Association.
On the other hand, the opened outlets said there has been about an 85 to 95 percent drop in footfall and daily sales, compared to those in the same day of last year – the 16th day of Ramadan.
Retail outlets that cater to comparatively affluent customers have witnessed a bigger drop in footfall than turnover. Meanwhile, brand chains or non-brand shops with a lower price tag witnessed a bit higher footfall but few sales.
For example, the Infinity Mega Mall at Baily Road sold 90 percent less compared to this day a year ago, and they received 95 percent fewer customers in the outlet.
Meanwhile, outlets selling comparatively lower-priced apparel – mostly non-branded – saw sales drop up to 95 percent, despite customer visits having dropped less.
Infinity, the brand with a higher price tag, is offering a 10 percent discount for online delivery of apparel, which is not applicable to in-store sales.
Apex Footwear's Gulshan outlet has sold shoes and various leather products worth around Tk1 lakh – an approximate 85 percent fall from the same day a year ago. Its managers said that the footfall drop in the first day of reopening surpassed the sales drop.
Meanwhile, a Bata outlet in the capital's Kakrail made Tk8,000 from shoe sales – which compares to the 70-80 thousand it made in a day a year ago.
Managers at each of the shops are hopeful they will see a higher turnover as Eid is approaching.
Sales teams within electronics, two-wheeler and automobile showrooms seemed to be in a preparation mood as the customers for their comparatively bigger-ticket purchases have yet to return.
However, all the major brands are back in retail along with service centers.
A large number of automobile workshops and parts shops were open until 4pm on Sunday, as per the government directive.
Shops and chain outlets with direct access from roads are enjoying the freedom to ensure the health and safety measures themselves, while shops within malls have not been able to isolate themselves from the whole marketplace.
Some ground floor shops at the entry points of many markets also managed to reopen.
Brand outlets reopened in almost all the locations except the still-shut shopping malls, while traditional non-brand Eid shopping seems concentrated in the capital's Elephant Road, Mirpur Road and Uttara areas.
Small apparel and footwear shops in different residential areas are also eager to reopen for Eid, once they see enough response.
Most of the shops in Islampur, the biggest hub that caters to non-brand apparel shops, are also back in business at the first chance, despite very low turnover potential – in their view.
Markets in most divisional cities remain closed
As businesspeople had been allowed to reopen shopping malls and markets from Sunday, ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, few of them reopened their shops while some have kept their businesses shut.
All the business people in the Chattogram, Rajshahi, Barisal, Mymensingh and Sylhet cities decided to keep their businesses shut until Eid-ul-Fitr.
Local shopping malls and market authorities said they had already decided not to open their businesses at a time when Covid-19 cases were only increasing.
In Sylhet city, business leaders and owners decided to keep shopping malls and markets shut until Eid-ul-Fitr. "It is a big message to the government," said Sylhet Chambers of Commerce's President Abu Taher Md Shoeb – adding that "life comes first."
In Rajshahi, City Corporation Mayor AHM Khairuzzaman Liton, local police administration and the local member of parliament, Sunday evening, decided to keep all the markets and shopping malls closed considering public health safety.
In Chattogram city, the shopping mall owners said they had also decided to keep their businesses closed until May 31.
Syed Khurshid Alam, general secretary of Bipani Bitan (New Market) Welfare Committee said, "The businessmen will be hit hard. However, given the risk of transmission of the life-threatening disease, we have decided not to reopen our businesses."
Markets reopen in Rangpur
The government earlier allowed businesspeople to keep shops and shopping malls open from 10am to 4pm every day, from Sunday, while maintaining health guidelines. So, shops of all types and sizes in Rangpur city reopened early Sunday while following 16 guidelines.
Rashiduzzaman Bulbul, general secretary of Rangpur Super Market, said, "I have reopened my market while complying with the health guidelines of district administration."
"People shopped while maintaining the necessary social distancing rules. However, there was an overflowing crowd," he added.
Also, markets have reopened in Bogura and Khulna. S Anam Ul Hossain, president of the Khulna Shopping Complex Shop Owners' Association, said the shops of Khulna Shopping Complex reopened after 10am.
Markets in Tangail packed with crowds
Shoppers rushed to the market, disregarding Covid-19 health guidelines, after businesses reopened in Tangail Sunday after a month-and-a-half.
Even though there were handwashing facilities in front of the markets, people were rarely seen washing their hands.
Traders said that they had been facing losses as the shops had been closed for a long time. If a little business could be done for a few days before Eid, the salaries of the employees could be paid, they said.
This is why we have opened shops despite the risk, added traders.
Tangail Deputy Commissioner Md Shahidul Islam said the administration would take steps to ensure that sales and purchases made in the markets were in compliance with the healthcare rules.
A different picture was seen in Sunamganj municipality. Local public representatives and businessmen did not allow any shops in the town to reopen Sunday to prevent Covid-19 infections. Visiting markets of the city from morning till noon, they tried to inform people about the virus. During this time, they also shut the shops that had reopened.