Shopkeepers glum with subdued Diwali sales as consumers fail to get festive

Given that people seem to be spending less, vendors who pack the markets are doing better with their cheaper goods | Photo: Sanjay K Sharma
Rohit Chadha, 35, was busy convincing a small group of Punjabi housewives to buy from a stack of designer sarees at his two floor store in Lajpat Nagar market in south Delhi on the evening of Dhanteras. It took another half hour of strenuous cajolery to persuade them to buy and even then, they picked only two from the pile. 

Chadha, who has been managing the family store since 2011, was not pleased. The women were only the fifth group of customers he had managed to convert into sales since 10 am - much lower than his usual strike rate two days ahead of Diwali. His father, Devinder Singh, looked grumpy as hell from the subdued sales he has seen this season. “The worst in at least last 10 years,” he declared tersely. 

Over at the multi-brand shop for home appliances, Kamaldeep Sawhney, who has been running the show since 2003, was equally crestfallen. Last year was bad enough, with sales lower than previous years, but this Diwali was proving to be a disaster. 

“Forget sales. Hardly any customers have turned up at all,” said Sawhney. “Earlier we have seen customers going back after reviewing products or opting for cheaper variants to cut down on expenses. But this time, they aren’t even turning up.”  

Given that people seem to be spending less, it makes sense that the street vendors who pack the market are doing better with their cheaper goods – but only relatively better. 

A short distance away from Lajpat Nagar, on the other side of the Ring Road, in Amar Colony, the story is pretty much the same. Ranjeet Tanwar, owner of a popular dry fruits and snacks outlet, has seen sales falling by a third. While plenty of customers were turning up, especially his regular ones, they were spending less than usual. 

By 9 pm on Dhanteras, the markets at Kalkaji and Govindpuri were already deserted and those in Laxmi Nagar and Nirman Vihar in east Delhi lacked the usual hustle and bustle of pre-Diwali madness. Utensils and Diwali lights were going unsold. Even the most elementary prerequisite of Diwali - earthenware lamps - were lying unsold, in heaps. “Sales have been dismal. Most of my customers this year have bought the smaller clay lamps which are cheaper,” said Ramlal Yadav. 

The figures for the slump varied. Some, like Sunil Ahuja who owns Laxmi Handlooms, a landmark in Laxmi Nagar, talked of a 40 per cent dip in sales. Bulk sales, he said, were missing. Vimal Monga of Monga electronics which sells kitchen appliances and water heaters, said he was mighty relieved that he hadn’t bulking up on advance stocks. 

Monga offers easy financing options but the days of selling to customers by tweaking the EMI limits have gone. Lack of support from manufacturers in terms of special discounts and offers have further worsened the situation, he said. Monga now offers additional discounts from his books.

For retailers of mobile handsets, the enemy lies elsewhere – the gigantic shopping festivals of the e-commerce giants such as Flipkart and Amazon. They have been the biggest casualty of the Indian consumer’s growing love affair with online shopping. 

“Customers want to check out high value phones before making a purchase but will order online nonetheless as discounts have kept on growing. But mid-range and low-end models are mostly lying on the shelves,” said Irshad Hussein, proprietor of a large mobile phone showroom in Nirman Vihar’s electronic market.

Sunil Suri, another shopkeeper, is furious. He sells watches and clocks and his sales have been hit by the online giants. “A recently launched line of Titan wristwatches worth an average of Rs 2500 is retailing at only Rs 399 on Amazon,” he spat out in disgust.

The jewellry business seemed the only exception to the gloom. “We have seen regular sales over the past week. Customers are willing to shell out for jewellry and hallmark coins even when prices continue climbing. But most of the buyers are repeat customers,” said Raj Kumar Garg, president of the Vikas Marg Market Traders Association.

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