- Wholesalers say movement restrictions before and after the last two Eids slashed their sales by 50%-60%
- Moreover, the retailers are returning unsold goods they had taken on credit before Eid
Despite the government's loosening virus curbs after one and a half months, wholesale markets of food and non-food items are still facing low customer turnouts and dull sales thanks to the fall in demand in retails prompted by the pandemic-led income crunch.
Wholesalers have said a series of movement restrictions before and after the last two Eids slashed their sales by 50%-60%. On top of that, retailers are now returning the unsold products they took on credit before Eid.
In Dhaka's Islampur, Sadarghat, Bangabazar, Chandni Chwak, Gausia, New Market, Elephant Road, Fulbaria, Chawkbazar and Karwanbazar Saturday, most traders were found idling away the time with customers being few and far between.
"Yesterday's sales were only Tk25,000 while our per day sales in pre-pandemic times were Tk3-4 lakh," said Mohammad Shahed, a fabric trader in the city's Islampur – one of the largest clothing hubs in Bangladesh.
Mohammad Fahim, another Islampur trader, said the pandemic spoiled Eid businesses for a straight two years. "I hoped the retailers would repay some of their credits after the Eid-ul-Azha sales. But now they are coming up with the unsold clothes worth Tk10-12 lakh, to return them every day," said a disappointed Fahim.
Islampur meets as much as 60% of annual demand for locally manufactured fabrics, and 40% of that for imported clothes. The traders import textiles mostly from India, Pakistan, China, Thailand and Japan.
The wholesale hub has around 20,000 traders, 110 markets, more than 6,500 showrooms and 60,000-70,000 people working there.
Apart from textiles for tailor-made garments, Islampur offers a wide range of baby wear, sharees, lungis, bed sheets, curtains and clothing accessories. There are no specific data on annual sales of the market, but traders assume it is not less than Tk50,000 crore a year.
According to the traders, Eid sales are the market's lifeblood as 70%-80% of the annual business take place before the two religious occasions.
"I have been selling clothes since 1990, but I have never faced such an unprecedented business slump," said Islampur trader Mizanur Rahman. He claimed his losses due to the virus curbs last year amounted to around Tk20 lakh and he incurred Tk25-30 lakh losses in Eid sales this year.
Shamsul Alam, president of Islampur Traders Association, said that traders could not sell even half of the clothes they brought in around the Eids this year, losing at least Tk35,000-40,000 crore in sales on those occasions.
Dhaka's Bangabazar is widely known as the wholesale point for shoes, footwear, fabrics and electronics.
Like Islampur, sales in Bangabazar were also disrupted by virus curbs. Now the market sees a low customer turnout.
"More than half of the shoes meant for Eid are still piled up. There have almost been no customers after the lockdown too as I could not sell a single pair of shoes since the morning," Bangabazar trader Rakib Ahmed told The Business Standard on Saturday.
Nizam Uddin, president of Chandni Chawk traders' association, said the pandemic had dealt a mighty blow to all Eid-centric businesses for two years in a row. Besides, the movement restrictions have been prompting job cuts and income losses, resulting in a low purchasing power of people.
"As demand falls, retailers cannot sell their products. This eventually affects the wholesale markets. I think the situation will take a long time to normalise," he noted.
With social gatherings and indoor and outdoor programmes suspended, cosmetics, showpieces and fancy gift item sales also take a pandemic beating.
"People's incomes are declining due to a series of virus curbs as we are struggling with the business," said Chawkbazar fancy showpiece seller Harun Sarker. He, however, said the business would turn around if no movement restrictions are imposed in the upcoming months and schools reopen.
New Market readymade garment traders said customer turnout has been low since the lockdown was lifted on 11 August.
Essential markets dull too
Karwanbazar rice wholesaler Abul Kashem said the food staple market was dull. He said the traders, however, had hoped sales would improve after the lifting of the lockdown.
"I used to sell 60-70 sacks of rice a day, which figure has now plummeted to 8-10 sacks now," he added.
Sales of essential food items were out of the lockdown purview, though the supply chain was hit by a suspension of public transportation. Rice traders said recent rice price hikes coupled with people's declining incomes could have been the reasons for poor sales.
They also believe the lockdown-led restaurant closure and a suspension on social events contributed to the sluggish sales.
"Edible oil sales before this year's Eid-ul-Azha slipped by 25%-30% compared to last year," said Karwanbazar oil trader Dulal Ahmed, adding the oil market is yet to shake off the lockdown shock.
Chawkbazar wholesale spices trader Mohammad Kamal Hossain said his sales ahead of Eid-ul-Azha were 30%-40% lower than last year.
"The peak time for sales has gone as there are almost no customers now," he added.