SINGAPORE: The streets of Geylang are lighted up but Hari Raya festivities this year will remain a muted affair.
Physical bazaars have gone online. And people are adhering to tighter COVID-19 regulations amid a rise in community cases.
It is another blow for businesses like Fotohi Carpet Gallery, which typically enjoys higher sales during the Ramadan period.
For more than 20 years, Fotohi Carpet Gallery has joined the yearly bazaar near Tanjong Katong Complex, selling and auctioning carpets at marked-down prices.
The strategy - to sell at lower margins for a bigger volume - has paid off in the past.
Owner Reza Fotohi estimates that in 2019, the gallery netted about S$40,000 to S$50,000 during the fasting month.
The company now struggles to clear its stock of Persian carpets.
While Fotohi Carpet Gallery's showroom has resumed operations after being shut during Ramadan last year, business remains slow – barely 30 per cent of what it used to be.
The company has tried livestreaming to sell its carpets, but that has not helped much.
“Carpets still need to be sold in the traditional way. The customer needs to come down, feel the carpet, see the carpet, touch the carpet. Then we negotiate over the price, over the size, over the colours,” said Mr Fotohi.
For other businesses though, going big online has been a lifeline.
All Things Delicious café in Arab Street has seen the benefits of setting up a same-day delivery website.
Even though walk-in customers dropped by about 80 per cent during Ramadan last year - which was during the "circuit breaker" period - the business could keep going with online sales.
The drop in tourist visitors and cancellations of corporate catering took a toll on business revenue.
Safety protocols in staff deployment and finding reliable third-party delivery partners also posed challenges for the business.
But café founder Dewi Imelda Wadhwa said things are looking up this year, as staffing and logistics have been streamlined.
The café has launched Ramadan gift boxes and care packs.
Ms Dewi said she has also noticed that more companies are organising Ramadan celebrations.
Lessons from last year’s Ramadan are also at play for fashion ecommerce platform Zalora.
Sales for Zalora’s modest wear category started picking up as early as February.
“Usually we see the numbers spike during lunchtime or after work hours. But this year, a lot more people are home-based, so we see the numbers are quite spread out," said Ms Shasha Ahmad, modest wear category lead at Zalora Group.
"We also have our suhoor campaigns that happen between 5am and 9am. We offer discount codes then. So during that time we see a spike in numbers of sales,” she said.
There are other trends too.
Online advertising firm Criteo said Ramadan purchases this year are mostly taking place via mobile phones and apps.
Criteo also said there has been a change in what consumers want during this Ramadan season.
During past Ramadan seasons, the top product categories were usually health and beauty, electronics, toys, games and home products. In 2021, the growth has been primarily in two categories – fashion/luxury, and mass merchant products.
It is a sign, market watchers say, that consumers are more focused on their immediate needs, especially given the economic downturn.
To attract consumers, businesses need to combine online and offline strategies, said Criteo.
“Brands are encouraged to focus less on promoting the price and more on the observance," said Mr Taranjeet Singh, managing director, Southeast Asia and India, Criteo.
"Secondly, marketers need to be targeting the right audience, those who are most likely to shop during this period.
"Third, offer consumers what they need through personalised ad campaigns. This is super important in today's hyper-connected world. Especially when consumer behaviour has become more about a one-on-one experience than one-to-many.”
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