‘It doesn’t feel like Hari Raya’: Malaysia’s Ramadan vendors fret over slow sales amid COVID-19
Ramadan vendors have had to adjust their business model, from striking it out in online marketplaces to launching products with COVID-19 themed designs.
SINGAPORE: Nor Fatiha Rahamat typically bakes Hari Raya cookies and cakes before selling them at Ramadan bazaars in Johor. It is a crucial source of income for her to fund her family’s daily expenses.
However this year, with Malaysia still in the fight against COVID-19, Nor Fatiha told CNA that the situation is far off from business-as-usual.
“It’s vastly different this year. I’ve been taking orders since the start of the year but over the last month, 90 per cent of my customers have cancelled,” said the owner of Tia Cake House, which is based in Johor Bahru.
“Now, I have to promote my goods again, and hope that more people will make orders,” she added.
Nor Fatiha said the main reason for the cancellations is nationwide uncertainty over what Ramadan bazaar vendors can or cannot do during the fasting month.
Ramadan bazaars are an important staple for Malaysians, where people typically head to groups of street vendors and purchase food for breaking fast as well as clothing for the Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations.
Earlier this month, the government said it will not allow any sort of bazaars, including e-bazaars and drive-throughs during the fasting month.
Among the main considerations cited were to minimise crowding and the number of vehicles on the road.
Despite the announcement, some are still selling food and other wares through online marketplaces.
Nor Fatiha said she agrees with the government’s decision and is thankful that she still has an avenue to do business.
Yet, she has encountered difficulties delivering her orders to customers, especially those living in other states. Malaysia’s Movement Control Order (MCO), which will end on Apr 28, restricts movement of people across state lines.
“For those who order my cakes and cookies, I will personally make the deliveries. However, they must be staying within 15km from my place because we do not want to break any laws,” said Nor Fatiha.
However, she maintained that her orders and business transactions have been far and few between.
“All in all, it doesn’t feel like Hari Raya this year. People do not really have the mood to celebrate,” she added.
Meanwhile, Sidek Azman, who usually sells Ramly burgers at bazaars in the northeastern state of Terengganu, told CNA that he is struggling to get a reasonable number of orders in order to cover his business costs.
“Many people in Terengganu live in rural areas ... In previous years, they would come down in droves to the physical bazaars and buy burgers for breaking fast. They prefer it that way,” said the 49-year-old.
Sidek added that many rural residents, especially the elderly, would have difficulties submitting their orders online.
“They prefer to see the product being made (in their presence) before buying. Selling Ramly burgers is all about the smell of meat being sizzled. It’s just not the same selling online and making deliveries.”
He added: “I think my business could drop by 75 per cent this year. I have bought less supplies in anticipation of this.”
CLOTHIING BUSINESSES ADAPT TO ONLINE MARKETPLACES
For those in the clothing business, they have modified their business model and are now emphasising on online marketplaces.
Aiman Mohammad Faizal, who manages Aqil Naufal shops which sells baju kurung for Hari Raya, said he used to operate in Melaka bazaars. But he is now trying to strike it out in online marketplaces across different states.
When interviewed by CNA, he noted that it is tough to sell online because customers are not able to try the clothes to check for size and fit.
Despite the challenges, he said: “We want to take this opportunity to expand our business to the whole of Malaysia. God willing, if there is nothing to stop us, we will find a way to deliver them to our customers.”
Other businesses are modifying their products to suit evolving consumer tastes during the COVID-19 period.
Azad Mahbob, who typically sells printed t-shirts at Melaka’s Ramadan bazaar near Dataran Pahlawan, told CNA that this year, he has produced shirts with COVID-19-themed designs and will be sending them to customers across the country.
Azad said the t-shirts are meant to commemorate the dedication of Malaysia’s frontliners in the country’s fight against COVID-19. Moreover, some of the T-shirts have messages to persuade Malaysians to stay at home, and adhere to the MCO.
“I saw how the frontliners worked so hard to fight COVID-19. So I designed these t-shirts to motivate and encourage them,” said Azad.
“At the same time, I also wanted to propagate the government’s message to adhere to the MCO. Hence, I also designed t-shirts with messages such as ‘stay at home’ and ‘adhere to the lockdown’,” he added.
READ: ‘If not us, then who?’: Malaysian doctors overcome fear of infection in country’s battle against COVID-19
Azad told CNA orders for his shirts have been very encouraging, with both members of the public and frontliners buying from him. He also said that the delivery process has been smooth because he uses postal services to deliver the shirts.
“Malaysians want to honour the sacrifices of our frontliners. And buying t-shirts like these is one way to spread the message,” he said.