Retail business takes a hit as consumers maintain distance from markets

The hustle and bustle is clearly missing, not to mention that restricted business hours and alternate-day opening of shops and retail establishments is taking a huge toll on operations
The board of an empty showroom at Hill Road, Bandra, a popular shopping destination, is hard to miss. While the local authorities have allowed shops on each side of the road to open on alternate days, business is slow.

“I would get 50-100 customers a day before the lockdown began. Now, shoppers barely come. This is despite the Unlock programme. How do I run my business like this?” asks Jaya Kamble, who has a small outlet for handbags at Hill Road.

The dilemma that confronts Kamble is something that has been playing on the minds of a number of small and big retailers, since the Unlock programme began in June. The phase-wise reopening of retail establishments has ironically not brought with it a wave of shoppers.

Instead, most consumers are keeping away from marketplaces such as Crawford Market, Hill Road, and Linking Road in Mumbai to Connaught Place, and Lajpat Nagar Central Market in New Delhi, as well as Brigade Road, and Commercial Street in Bengaluru. The ones coming are those that require to make urgent shopping trips, say retailers, picking up whatever they need quickly. 

The hustle and bustle is clearly missing, not to mention that restricted business hours and alternate-day opening of shops and retail establishments is taking a huge toll on operations.

Gopal Rajpurohit, owner of Real Taste Dry Fruits at Crawford Market, says that business has plummeted due to the ongoing crisis. “We are just doing 10-20 per cent of what we did prior to the crisis. During the lockdown, a large portion of our stock got ruined, and we had to bear the loss. The extended lockdowns are simply dragging on, instilling more fear in people,” he says.

At Brigade Road, Bengaluru, which houses over 125 branded and non-branded stores, nearly 25 showrooms have seen closures so far, including those selling VIP bags, Woodland shoes, and Flying Machine apparel. “Ten more will shut shop in a few days,” says Suhail Yusuff, secretary of the Brigade Shops & Establishments Association.

It won’t help that Bengaluru will be going into lockdown again from Tuesday for a week. Pune will also go into lockdown from Tuesday, while Aurangabad in Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh have already gone into lockdowns from Friday.

Tarandeep Singh, a third generation garment seller at Lajpat Nagar, says sales are yet to touch 25 per cent of pre-Covid-19 levels and he is unsure how the scenario will unfold in the months ahead. “I've had to let go of over half of my staff, most of whom have moved back to their villages,” he says.

The Confederation of All India Traders as well as the Retailers Association of India (RAI) admit that retail business overall has been impacted severely, down by 65-70 per cent in June, with lack of uniformity in rules as well as fear of shopping among consumers hurting operations badly.

“Retailers witnessed 67 per cent de-growth in business overall from June 15 to June 30, compared to the corresponding period last year. Malls saw a sharper decline, at 77 per cent year-on-year, on account of not being allowed to open uniformly across the country. High street retail showed de-growth of 62 per cent (y-o-y) in business despite being allowed to open across India,” RAI said in its survey last week.

The only exception here has been consumer durables and electronics retailers, says RAI, whose decline, at 19 per cent, has been lower than the overall number (67 per cent).

“Business has been picking up in the last one month,” says Nilesh Gupta, MD at Vijay Sales. “Categories that have seen good offtake include laptops, and home appliances. The uptick has partly to do with the work-from-home culture gaining steam. The mood overall remains sombre. And, I remain cautiously optimistic,” he says.

Executives at popular apparel outlets such as H&M and Levi’s say although more consumers are visiting their stores now, compared to early June, business is yet to cross half of pre-Covid levels.

In Mumbai, a dealer in kitchenware and cutlery at Crawford Market says: “The problem I face though is that of transportation. Local trains are not fully operational yet. Which means I have to depend on road transport, which is expensive.”

At Commercial Street in Bengaluru, the few people, who’ve come have to dodge potholes. Regarded as the city’s wedding shopping destination, Commercial Street is under construction, leaving hardly any space for shopping. “The Sunday lockdown has also hurt us badly as 80 per cent of the shopping is done on weekends,” says Mayank Rohatgi, secretary of the Commercial Street Association, who owns a jewellery shop in the hub. The area, which houses over 600 shops, has already seen closures of 34 stores so far.

“Most of the shopkeepers are struggling to pay rent and salaries. If this continues for a few more months, about 80 per cent of the shops on Commercial Street will shut,” Rohatgi said.

Linking Road in Mumbai, meanwhile, is unusually quiet for a Saturday evening. A salon owner says she gets just three visitors a day now, that too, after vigorous follow-ups, versus 50-60 visitors per day before the pandemic began. “No matter what safety protocols we follow, I think, there is a trust deficit. This will take time to ease,” the salon manager says wistfully.

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