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A tale of two gadget markets in Corona times

While the Minister of State for Finance Anurag Thakur stated that the spread of Covid-19 will not adversely affect the economy, vendors and owners in Delhi’s biggest gizmo markets tell a different story

WITH THE pandemic having started in China — also called the “factory of the world” — the tech industry is beginning to feel the pinch. Factories are functioning at lowered capacities due to quarantine rules. Imports are being shunned.

Cancellation of events like Facebook’s F8 Developer’s Conference, the WWDC 2020 (which will be completely online), IoT in Action Conference by Microsoft and the I/O 2020 Developers Conference by Google, will hit research and development.

The cancellation of these events is just the tip of the iceberg and cannot be seen as a development in far off places with little repercussions on the Indian mobile and computer industry. According to a report by the United Nations, the Indian economy is expected to be among the 15 worst hit due to slowdown of production in China.

Tech markets are already affected, especially retail and wholesale. Patriot visited the two markets in Delhi that feed the city’s gadget demands to find out the extent of the pressure being felt.

NEHRU PLACE

The electronic market situated within the central plaza here is considered a haven for tech junkies. From laptops to mobile phones, accessories and even software, everything can be found here.

Parking attendants go about performing their duties with masks on. And as one enters the market, the decline in footfall of patrons can be felt. “We are selling whatever stock we have left, and due to the shortage of supply from the Chinese markets, the prices of parts for laptops and mobile phones are expected to rise. Apart from this, there has been a decline in the customer footfall, all of which has led to a decrease in the overall business,” says Bhan Kishan who has been working at Repair Factory, a prominent repair outlet for gadgets in the market.

He further adds that many companies in the IT sector — namely Computer Science Corporation and Orange Communications — have asked their employees to work from homes to keep the virus from spreading.

His thoughts are echoed by Faheem, another vendor who says that business has been hit hard due to lack of supply. “Market gir chuka hai, rent tak nahi nikal raha hai (the market has fallen, we can’t even make rent),” he says. He further goes on to add that due to the shortage of supply from Gaffar Market — the wholesale market for electronics in Delhi — there is an increase of 10-20% in prices and to top it a big fall in the number of customers has hit every vendor here.

Upon being asked about the possible precautions being taken to fight the spread of the virus, he takes a packet of paper-soap from his pocket saying ‘We are trying our best but due to lack of water it is difficult to wash our hands frequently”.

The worst-hit here are the hawkers lugging their merchandise around, setting them up on tables as soon as they come across a customer. One such hawker Aijaz who sells mobile accessories — hails from Begusarai, Bihar. He says we are somehow just managing, we are selling whatever stock we have left as the supply of accessories is very low which has led to an increase in their cost.

Asked about the measures he is taking to prevent contagion, he says “Where will we get the money to purchase face masks? We are not even able to make enough to pay for our daily commute. If things don’t change soon, we will have to return home, he says with a sad smile.

When Patriot inquired about the source of information regarding preventive measures the response from the vendors, shopkeepers and hawkers was the same — the information being played via phone networks and television. However, the lack of water, soap and alcohol-based sanitisers can be felt across the market.

GAFFAR MARKET, KAROL BAGH

The effects of the spread of coronavirus and confirmed cases in India can be felt in one of the capital’s top gadget markets as well. The usually bustling market has witnessed a sharp decline in the number of daily customers.

Deepak Kumar, owner of a repair and accessories store in the market says customer footfall has fallen sharply — where around a hundred customers used to visit the store, only 10-15 are doing so now. “Usually there are a lot of customers, but nowadays there are very few’.

This, he says, has led not just to a decline in profits but also led to many shops firing staff to minimise losses.”There is no work, we just keep sitting in the shops,” he adds.

Upon being asked about alternative supply chains, he says there is no such thing as production and distribution of major parts has fallen steeply — referring to the lack of imports from manufacturing centres in China.

Regarding precautionary measures against the virus, he says that information is scarce. There are vendors in the market who don’t even want to purchase Chinese goods anymore for fear of spread of infection. He also says that the effects of the spread of the virus will have a long-term effect on the market and it will take at least six months for the business to get back on track.

His thoughts are shared by Rakesh, who runs a small outlet for mobile phone accessories in the heart of the market. He says, “If supply does not resume soon, the cost of normal parts like cables for mobiles phones and laptops will increase around 30-40%”.

He adds, “Number of customers has halved and supply is scarce, in such a scenario we are somehow managing.”

Gaurav Sinha, store manager at a multibrand store says, “The lack of customers and supply from China has affected operations but we are managing due to supply from local factories. The worst-hit, he says, are brands like Oppo and Vivo whose supply is linked directly to imports from China. “Even launch dates for several smartphones and products have been postponed due to the outbreak of the virus,” he adds.

Gaurav further says that the prices of merchandise have increased. “Prices of iPhones have increased by Rs 1,200-1,500.” Talking about precautions, he says that staff suffering from even seasonal flu have been advised to stay at home and rest and the companies are doing their best to ensure sanitisers and proper hand wash facilities are available at stores.

All in all, the effects of coronavirus are being felt across tech markets in Delhi and if vendors are to be believed, it will take a long time for them to recover. However, with an increase in the number of confirmed cases in India, the true extent of future damage to the markets is difficult to predict.