Aurora Magazine

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Small retailers in a bind

Published in Sep-Oct 2019

As high end retail forges on, smaller ones struggle to keep afloat

Until the early 2000s, bazaars and wholesale markets such as Tariq Centre, Boulton Market and Empress Market were among Karachi’s most popular commercial hubs, bustling with shoppers ready to feud and negotiate for their clothes, shoes, home accessories and even general grocery such as fruits and vegetables. Even after the arrival of malls such as Dolmen Mall (Hyderi), Millennium Mall (Gulistan-e-Jauhar) and Park Towers (Clifton), these hubs remained popular spots to buy unstitched unbranded fabric.

However, in the last two to three years, Pakistan’s economic situation has adversely affected several industries, including textiles. While branded fashion retailers are (despite the economic downturn) expanding their product lines and attempting to become lifestyle brands, smaller retailers of unbranded, unstitched fabric are facing declining customer traffic and hence lower revenues. To find out how these retailers are faring, we spoke to a few with outlets in Aashiana Shopping Mall, Clifton and Tariq Centre, Tariq Road, two of Karachi’s most popular bazaars for buying unstitched fabric.

Shopkeepers at both Aashiana and Tariq Centre confirmed a decline in customer footfall due to several reasons (a shopkeeper at Tariq Centre said that only about 10% of the customers who walked into his shop actually made a purchase). The foremost reason is the significant increase in the number of similar shops that have popped up across most neighbourhoods, bringing along with them ease and convenience, so that customers need not step further afield and face issues such as traffic congestion and parking difficulties.

Another factor is a decline in the popularity of “designer copies” (in the past many women used to buy copies of the designs made by high-end brands at half the price of the originals). This decline has largely been attributed to the fact that high-end brands are now releasing more affordable collections in order to widen their customer appeal (for example Muzlin by Sana Safinaz and Zaha by Élan).

Then, there are factors associated with increased production costs and overheads, as well as the cost of importing threads, dyes and even fabric. These small retailers have largely tried to avoid raising their prices in order to retain their customer base, hence they are now seeing their profits shrink.

Adding to the general despondency is the looming imposition of the general sales tax, which is likely to force these small retailers to push up their prices, perhaps at the cost of their customer base.