Online shopping Durga Puja is a festival that is woven into the fabric of Barak Valley. The rich and poor, the tall and the short, men and women, there is something in Durga Puja for everyone irrespective of caste, community. It is a festival that binds people together and at the same time, opens up avenues for revenue. It is the time when the streets are crowded and traffic is jam-packed. Eight days to go for the madness to begin.
But 2020, being an unusual year, scorching heat and deserted streets is the reality. The outbreak of Coronavirus induced pandemic has resulted in a disruption that most of the world did not foresee.
The health minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma yesterday during his press briefing said for the first time the positivity rate in the state has started to flatten. While this came in as music for many years, the Guidelines rolled out by his department has hit many businesses like a torpedo.
Sailing in the deep water, the proprietors are finding it difficult to meet ends. Rent and salary at a time when the residents are scared of stepping out have emerged as a challenge for them. Durga Puja, for most of the businesses in the apparel sector, is the only time of the season when they rake in sizable profits. As a tradition, family members and relatives gift clothes to each other during the Puja which they wear throughout the year. The shopping for Durga Puja in the East in itself is a festival.
So what is happening to the festival this year?
“When it comes to the number of buyers, so far, we have sold 30% of what we did last year,” says Ashish Kumar Roy, proprietor of Saradamoni Stores. “But we still have our fingers crossed,” asserts Roy.
Saradamoni Stores at the heart of the town is a trusted brand, yet, Roy feels people are “scared” and that is why the footfall is low. “We are using thermal scanners, there are santisers kept in the store yet people hesitate from buying physically from a retailer. We have even announced some attractive discounts,” informs Roy.
The store has stocked up fabrics shipped from Benaras, Bombay, Kolkata, Delhi. “Straight Cut Kurti coupled with formal pants or Sharara is emerging as the trend this year,” informs Roy.
There has been a paradigm shift when it comes to consumer behaviour. The people who always wanted to buy clothes after touching, feeling and trying them from a store, their trust has now moved to online orders. While Saradamoni Store is just at 30% of last year, young entrepreneur, Saara Shabnam who is the proprietor of Zaara Collection says her boutique has sold “80%” of what it did last year.
“Until last month, I thought this Pujo, people might choose to adorn themselves in a simple way. For a while, I was of the opinion that some people might not even buy new clothes. Let me accept it, I have been proven wrong. With the passage of time, people are getting more excited about the grand festival,” says Shabnam.
Barely a week to go before people start dressing up, yet, Shabnam says she is still getting new orders. “I am yet to deliver many orders,” she says. Adding, “This year’s Pujo Shopping is all about playing the budget game well. Throughout we kept it in mind that the general public has been economically affected and that is why we have priced accordingly.”
What worked for Shabnam, as per her assessment is the online mode of shopping. “No physical contact is required. That might be the reason why people are more inclined towards us this year,” she says.
The young entrepreneur, talking about the style statement this year says, Pakistani suits (can be seen in most TV shows these days) are considered “quite trendy.”
Fashion designer, Priya Roy Barman who has her own boutique Navya observed that the missing jigsaw in this year’s Pujo Shopping puzzle is the excitement of the kids. Most of the kids have been locked down by their parents to ensure they do not come in contact with the carrier of COVID19 infection. “They are not able to enjoy the shopping craze, and are definitely missing their moments,” says Piya Roy Barman.
The sales this year are not as “gigantic” as other years, opines Piya. “There is a sudden spike in demand that we are witnessing since the last 10 – 15 days. Normally, we see a steady flow of orders for 2 – 3 months but this year the orders started coming in late. Because of the sudden demand, we have a lot of orders which are yet to be delivered,” she adds.
Due to the last-hour rush, Piya feels she will meet 80% of her expectations. About the fashion during this Durga Puja, she says it is a traditional yet contemporary festival. ” During the day, traditional sarees rule, while at night, it has been seen that indo-western outfits, Sarees with Shrug, Salwar with cigarette pants, single colour Silk sarees with floral silk blouse are going to be the trend this pujo,” predicts Piya.
Traditional stores or new-age boutiques, the wrath of Coronavirus is evident everywhere. However, it is clear that the businesses that depend solely on physical shopping are having a harder time compared to those who sell online. What must be a worrying sign for the likes of Saradamoni, Anandamoyee, Nahata and others is the rise of online shopping. If this fear-driven change in behaviour becomes a habit then the retailers will find it difficult to survive even after the pandemic.