Brisk business during the just concluded Eid shopping season helped traders breathe a sigh of relief amid the ongoing nationwide lockdown and other measures in place to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Following requests from various economists and trade bodies, the government relaxed its hardline stance on public restrictions, allowing traders to reopen their stores 15 days ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, the biggest religious festival in Bangladesh.
All types of businesses enjoyed good customer turnout during this period, which came as a much-needed respite following a year of poor sales due to the advent of Covid-19 in March last year.
Traders had bet big on this year's Pahela Baishakh and Eid celebrations after watching their business evaporate last year, when the government imposed lengthy lockdowns to control the spiralling coronavirus situation.
This year too, Covid-19 laid waste to Pahela Baishakh sales and so Eid became their last resort.
Sales for Aarong, which has 21 outlets across the country, reached 70 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels during the lead up to Eid this year.
Mohammad Ashraful Alam, chief operating officer of the lifestyle brand, said they are grateful to the government for acting for the betterment of businesses by relaxing the restrictions.
"Had the second wave of Covid-19 not taken place, business would have been even better," he added.
However, the positive thing is that people turned up to shop even amid the current crisis.
"So, every business benefitted more or less," added Alam, who had urged the government to allow stores to remain open for extended hours ahead of Eid in order to log adequate sales.
The Daily Star talked to Alam and officials of some other renowned brands and outlets before and after Eid to get a better idea about their sales.
According to Raihan Kabir, head of marketing at Yellow, the fashion brand operated by Beximco, saw better business than expected within the short span of time.
"Yellow's online sales have increased greatly and many of our products even ran out of stock," he said, adding that their new outlet in Khulna registered sales equal to those in Dhaka.
When customer turnout started to slowly increase in the 15-day lead-up, Kabir had attributed the increased sales to brand value and a loyal customer base.
Shaheen Ahmed, owner of Anjans, said traders had feared that shoppers would not come to shopping malls or other retail outlets amid concerns of contracting the deadly Indian-variant of Covid-19.
But luckily, that did not happen as customers came to shop and business was not bad at all.
In terms of overall sales volume, Anjans' sales reached about half of its pre-pandemic levels.
"I initially thought we wouldn't be able to reach even 20 per cent sales of normal times," added Ahmed, also president of the Fashion Entrepreneurs Association of Bangladesh.
Khalid Mahmood Khan, co-founder of Kay Kraft, had anticipated that sales would reach 40 per cent of previous levels.
"However, it improved significantly towards the end of Ramadan to reach 70 per cent compared to 2019," he said.
Ujjwal Das, owner of Lanthon Fashion House in Shahbagh, had shared a different view ahead of Eid as the turnout of university students, his key demographic, was very thin back then.
"But still, business has been good so far and I was able to pay salaries, shop rent, and bonuses," he said.
"I couldn't do that in 2020," Das added.
Md Asaduzzaman, proprietor of Ankhi Fashion Garden, said although sales were good, it was not as much as expected.
"I kept my shutters closed for much of 2020 and the same situation arose in 2021 due to the second wave. People don't have money like before, so we did business on a limited scale," he added.
Sharif Market, the largest wholesale market for panjabis in Sadarghat, meets about 70 per cent of the local demand for the popular attire.
Atul Chowdhury, a salesman of the market's Syed Garments store, said that sales have been quite good.
"Sales were close to the 2019 levels, which was beyond our comprehension. We sold the bulk of our products during the last minute of Ramadan. The owners as well as employees are all happy for it," Chowdhury added.
Nesar Uddin Mollah, general secretary of the Islampur Cloth Merchant Association, said Ramadan was prime time for business but the lockdown had coincided with it.
"We sold a fair amount of products after being allowed to open the shops. We managed to sell 60 per cent of what we had prepared for," he added.
Similarly, Arfanul Hoque, head of retail at Bata, said they had reached 75 per cent of the sales volume in 2019.
"But if we compare it with the hard-hit 2020, it has been a fourfold increase," he added.
Saikat Azad, marketing manager of Transcom Electronics, said that customer turnout was quite good two days before Eid.
Air conditioners did not sell well and the demand for televisions was also low as people are spending carefully amid the pandemic.
"The overall demand for these products was very low but refrigerators and deep fridges sold well," Azad added.
Selim H Rahman, managing director of Hatil, said business was around 25 to 30 per cent less than usual during this Eid.
People redecorate their houses ahead of the Eid, which is why furniture sales grow significantly in that period.
Furniture brands also offer discounts to attract buyers but this time, buyers diverted away from furniture to clothes because of the coronavirus.
"Business was not very good because furniture is not cheap like clothes, which is why sales have not picked up much," he added.
Helal Uddin, president of the Bangladesh Shop Owners' Association, said the return of capital was more important than profit for traders under the current circumstances.
Many businessmen had been idle for the last 14-16 months and so, they just want enough capital to survive.
"I want to thank the government for its timely decision to reopen the businesses, shopping malls, markets and shops for us before the prime spending season," he added.