Pooja Verma, 57, and her 62-year-old husband had invested Rs two lakh for Christmas inventory in their shop at Surjeet Singh Marg, GTB Nagar, hoping to cash in on the post-Covid euphoria of the festival.
Little did they know that the indifferent response from customers would leave them worried.
“This year’s Christmas has to be the worst I’ve faced in the last 25 years. When Covid-19 subsided, my husband and I thought that this year will be good for our business. We stocked up products based on that assumption,” said Pooja.
“It was a huge mistake,” she added. “We stocked up Christmas products and gifts worth up to two lakh rupees, and half of December has passed but we haven’t collected even half of what we spent. We’ve clocked only about Rs 60,000 in sales.”
The profits are poor.
Pooja’s shop is visited by five to seven customers daily, which is not even close to their expectations.
“Most of the products are lying untouched in the warehouse,” she added.
Pooja’s lament exposes the tough times small traders have been facing over the last two years due to the lockdown and its after-effects, constantly changing consumer behaviour patterns as well as rising inflation.
Markets in the Capital have received lesser footfall than previous years even around holidays, according to the traders.
Hopes of traders that were riding on Christmas seem to be getting dashed.
Things are lukewarm even in Delhi’s INA market, which is known for Christmas decoration goods. The sight of the merchandise, such as well-lit trees and mannequins of Santa Claus at every corner, as well as the crowd would make one feel that the traders are having a good time. But that isn’t the reality.
Manish Singh, who has been running a shop in the INA market for the last 12 years, told Patriot, “Is saal market kaafi thanda hai (the turnout has been quite low this year). The sales have been way below the expectations of the shopkeepers.”
Singh attributes the downfall to multiple reasons like increased prices and online accessibility of almost all products. He also blamed customers for demanding unrealistic and outrageous discounts on prices.
“People come and look at the Christmas trees, ask for the price, say it is too much and then leave,” said Singh.
Singh also blamed the easy accessibility of products through online websites.
“They (the websites) are offering everything at the same price with the facility of doorstep delivery. They also give tempting discounts that we can’t afford to give.”
Singh gave an example of the Christmas balls that he was selling. He is selling six balls for Rs 500. Even at that price, he is not making a considerable profit.
“But you can get similar balls of lower quality online much cheaper. That’s what people prefer these days,” he added.
Singh also keeps Christmas trees in various shapes and sizes. The price starts from Rs 500 and rises with the increase in quality.
“Some customers want a product worth Rs 5,000 for just Rs 2,000. It is not possible to sell it for that low a price,” he added.
Singh also has on sale a Santa Claus outfit on a wooden mannequin. The attire, along with the mannequin costs Rs 5,000. The customers have found it very expensive but Singh said that they also are paying through their nose for the product and have had to keep a low-profit margin.
The predicament faced by shopkeepers with regard to the leftover Christmas products is that these cannot be sold for any other festival unlike Diwali-related or Holi-related products which can be sold throughout the year on different occasions.
“Where will you sell Santa Claus’s dress or a Christmas tree after Christmas?” asked Pooja.
“We will have to wait till the next year to clear our losses. The thing is that I am 57 years old and my husband is 62. We’re not even sure if we’ll be able to sit at our shop next year. Or whether next year is going to be stable? We are just hoping that we clock as many sales as possible over the next 10 days,” she added.
The bright side
However, not all seems to be lost. There are some traders who have been carding satisfactory sales.
“This year, the market is getting back on track. Customers are coming out in good numbers, and our business is running well compared to the last two years,” said Manpreet Singh, 40, who has been manning a small shop in GTB Nagar for the past 22 years. His shop is at a distance of 20 minutes from Pooja Verma’s shop.
Singh added that his business has remained unaffected even though this is not a Christian-dominated neighbourhood.
“Many schools in this area accept large orders, and another unusual change I’ve noticed is that people of other religions have also begun to celebrate Christmas. Especially the Punjabi people,” added Singh.
Manpreet being a Punjabi himself said the interest in Christmas is there mostly because of the kids who are obsessed with Santa Claus.
“It (the obsession) is helping our business,” he said.
“We’re very far from getting to the pre-pandemic numbers but considering the last two years this is good,” added Manpreet.
To explain that, he points at the fact that despite kids’ obsession with Santa Claus, there are few takers for Santa’s costumes or Christmas trees.
“The products that bring us the most revenue are the decoration materials,” he explained.
“Small decorative items such as lights, candles, tealights, Christmas bells and Christmas balls start at Rs 50 and are usually sold in sets of three or four and also in large orders,” he said.
Scenes at 32nd Avenue, Gurugram
The entire stretch of 32nd Avenue lawns in Gurugram has been transformed into a fun, activity-filled winter wonderland, with plenty of games as well as entertainment for kids. There are on-the-spot competitions, activities like Santa’s Science Lab, Christmas goodies, a real-life Santa distributing treats, Santa photo booths for the children to take home a memory, tattoos, raffles, lucky draws, prizes and many surprises. The cafes and restaurants at the venue are heavily decorated.
No wonder, there are long queues at the stalls.
“I’ve been setting up my stall here for the last four years on the night of Christmas. I don’t have set locations. I am more like a street vendor. I’ve stocked the stall with Christmas items, and my revenues have been strong so far this year, so I’m expecting to conclude the year on a profitable note,” said Virat Kushwaha, a 34-year-old seller at the 32nd milestone.
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