Business blues

Coronavirus has adversely affected many things. The traditional shopping in Ramazan is one major casualty


As one walks or drives along a popular clothing shop, one sees a queue of women standing at a safe distance from one another. Only a specified number of customers are allowed to enter at a time and the others are requested to wait for their turn. The guard present at the entrance offers them sanitiser to apply on their hands and asks those who are not wearing masks to wear them or if they do not have these with them to cover their mouth with some cloth.

It is not easy for the shop staff to control customers because everyone seems to be in a hurry and complains that the customers who are inside are taking too long. But still there is some discipline and a major reason for this behaviour is that the shop is on the main road and any violations of the standard operating procedures (SOPs) can be easily noticed. The shop owned by a major brand is enforcing social/physical distancing principles though it hurts their sales and limits the number of customers who visit them. It is important for them as they got the permission to open their shops just a few days before Eid after a long lockdown.

The situation is not the same everywhere. Markets like Ichhra, Anarkali, Kareem Block Market etc in Lahore and Zainab Market in Karachi are witnessing uncontrollable crowds that seem desperate to shop. In many instances, markets have been closed down by the administration for not following SOPs. The general impression is that there is a lenient enforcement till Eid. People can be seen standing too close to one another, even pushing and shoving to move forward.

Though one sees economic activity at such places, this year’s Ramazan has been totally different from any in living memory. Coronavirus has adversely affected many things and the traditional shopping in Ramazan has been one major casualty. Traders and businessmen all over the country had long been threatening to open shops unilaterally but the administration would somehow persuade them to postpone their plans.

Market analysts believe that the garments sector has been the worst affected. People buy new clothes ahead of Eid. The best gifts for children are new clothes and the readymade garments’ markets gather stocks for release on Eid because in these times they can get the premium price. For this purpose children’s garments are imported from countries like China and Thailand. Shoes are also a high-demand product that people want to wear on Eid day.

This year it has been mostly the old stock and local products. Most of the sales came during the last few days, says Sheikh Shahid, a shopkeeper in Baghbanpura Market in Lahore. He says some people are under the impression that traders have recovered their losses but this is not the case. When you allow people to open shops and buy goods after two months, he says, it seems that every other person is on a shopping spree. Shahid tells The News on Sunday that in previous years, importers of readymade garments would ask them to promise that they would not sell imported stock before 20th of Ramazan. This year, there were no buyers for it. He says this Ramazan was quite different because the shops were closed more than a month before the advent of Ramazan and their payments got stuck. “When your money is not in circulation and you are exhausting your savings, you cannot do much business.”

Naeem Mir, secretary general of the All Pakistan Qaumi Tajir Ittehad, says the situation in Ramazan was quite expected. That was the reason, he says, most businessmen were cautious and did not pile up stocks. He says there was a general perception that the lockdown might get extended beyond Ramazan. Now that the lockdown has been relaxed, even the old stock has been sold and there has been no need to go for clearance sales. Mir says there are hardly any imported items on offer because the logistical issues made it difficult to import goods. He adds that the policy decisions have discouraged stock building. He says the sales have been around 50 per cent of a normal Ramazan.

Qasim Abbas, vice president of Urdu Bazaar Traders’ Union, says every Ramazan there are huge sales of copies of Quran and religious literature, but this time these remained unsold because people were confined to their houses. Every year people buy and donate these volumes to mosques, people in religious gatherings, and madrassas but it did not happen this time, he adds.

The catering business also got hit because there were no iftar parties or other social gatherings. 

The catering business was also badly hit because there were no iftar parties or other social gatherings. Even the number of people attending funerals had to be limited. So, the caterers who would offer food, furniture, tents, crockery etc remained idle. One benefit that consumers got was that the prices of poultry items remained reasonable. The reason was that they were consuming the supplies meant for the wedding season.

While most people were confined to their homes and had less buying power due to suspension of livelihood opportunities, the supply side also had a problem. Due to the lockdown, the raw material could not be converted to finished products. For example, Baba Latif Ansari, president of the Labour Qaumi Movement (LQM), says the closure of power looms in Faisalabad slowed down or halted supply of raw cloth to be used in lawn products and other varieties. The initial closure of major shopping malls had done additional damage because they market branded items and new lawn varieties well and people visit them in large numbers. Shopping malls had remained closed also over fears that these were air-conditioned and the air circulating through the ducts might spread coronavirus faster.

Ume Laila Azhar, the HomeNet Pakistan executive director, tells TNS that she has observed that mostly people are buying clothes for their children and only rarely for themselves. The rush on streets, she says, is partly for the reason that other markets like electronics and mobile phone markets and hardware stores have also opened simultaneously. Azhar works with home-based workers (HBWs) all over Pakistan and has noticed that these women workers have got limited orders from middlemen for products that form important components of the overall supply chain of finished products. These include bangles, adda work, embroidery, khussa work and so on. “The reduced orders are a proof that demand has also contracted.”

The writer is a staff member.  He can be reached at [email protected]

Business blues