Home  -  Back Issues  -  The Team  -  Contact Us
          Volume 11 |Issue 17 | April 27, 2012 |


 Cover Story
 Current Affairs
 One Off
 Star Diary
 Write to Mita

   SWM Home


Photo: Amirul Rajiv

The Way We Shop

The way we shop for groceries has changed because of our need for convenience, but the increasing number of supermarkets has not yet wiped out the old ways

Soraya Auer

Walking with her head down, Nasima (not her real name) is making her way to a local general shop. “This is more than enough money to make the journey back to my village in Khulna,” the young maid servant says as she raises her wrist slightly to show the edge of folded 100 taka notes. She walks straight past the entrance of a chain supermarket where her employers buy their weekly groceries. When asked why she wasn't buying the few items she's been sent out to buy there, she answers, “I just don't.”

While Nasima may not feel comfortable to shop in supermarkets, the truth is, other people do and as of a result of their rising popularity, retail supermarkets have been slowly popping across the country. Dhaka's first supermarket, Agora, a brain child of Rahimafrooz Superstores, opened in Dhanmondi in 2000. A couple of years later, competitors like Meena Bazar, Nandan and Shopno joined the industry and soon enough, major cities like Chittagong and Khulna were also catered for by other companies.

People who shop at bazaars are still able to bargain whereas prices at supermarkets are fixed. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

Supermarket bosses' have been patting their backs recently as their industry is predicted to turnover Tk 200 billion by 2021 with a yearly growth of about 30 percent. The President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), Asif Ibrahim, at a seminar celebrating 10 years of supermarkets in Bangladesh, opined, “The success of superstores lies in making them affordable for the middle-class consumers.”

It is debatable whether that is yet the case considering the high prices of certain goods available in supermarkets. In a country where some people are born natural hagglers, Bangladeshi consumers have learnt to accept fixed prices. Many are seeing the convenience of doing all their shopping in one place and finding it in their pockets to meet the extra expense. “I prefer shopping in supermarkets because those places are neat, clean and organised so that I can easily see the products I need,” explains Dipanwita Ridi, who lives in Mohammadpur, Dhaka. “It's true that it costs a little more than common market places but I prefer to shop in a relaxed mood. I always had to hurry and ask twice or three times in small shops. I had to literally struggle with other customers, which I hated so much.” She adds, “Now it's fun to shop!”

Shopping in supermarkets is more than just enjoyable – it has become a pastime of urban people. “I know many people who'd go to supermarkets to get the air-conditioned air – just to hang out,” says Dr Farhana Zaman from Gulshan, Dhaka. “Now some supermarkets even have benches so that people can come, sit, breathe in the filtered air and feel good.”

Dr Zaman suggests some people think it's better to roam the supermarkets, which are almost constantly supplied with electricity, than stay in their homes where power failures limit their access to electricity and air-conditioning. “Even when there's no one in the supermarket, they have the bright lights on and are running the air-conditioning so a lot of power is being consumed unnecessarily and adding to the country's power problems.” She concludes, “The general public is suffering at the end of the day but they just don't see it.”

Some people have noticed, however, that the local shops they once went to are no longer in business or have adapted themselves to survive alongside supermarkets. “Supermarkets are not our competition because there are so many people in the city that you need them to meet everyone's needs,” says Md Tuhin of Infinity General Store in Dhanmondi. “There are lots of schools around here and we do well because we're the only general store that our customers can walk into on their way to school or work.” But unlike Infinity General Store, many grocery shops around supermarkets have had to close down because they simply could not compete with supermarkets able to entice customers.

However, not all those able to afford supermarkets always succumb to the one-stop solution for busy urbanites. Shayak Ahmed would like to keep his costs down but says he only buys from supermarkets because it is convenient. “I only go to such supermarkets when I am constrained by time,” insists the senior school teacher from Uttara, Dhaka. “Four years back, there weren't such supermarkets so we just had to go to the bazaars, which I still do. If I had more time on my hands I would always go to the local bazaars and get good buys at bargain prices as opposed to the fixed prices at supermarkets.”

Mercy Sanabam, who works at a school, has changed some of her buying habits over the past decade but has ensured she still gets the best deal when shopping for groceries. “I used to get chicken and vegetables from the street vendors when my children were small,” says Sanabam, who has not completely converted to supermarket shopping. “Now I have stopped buying from them because my house is located right beside Town Hall Bazaar and the sellers in the marketplace know me well so I get my groceries at a lower price.”

Street vendors who shout out their wares – like “mooorgiii” (chicken) – have had to adopt other ways of earning money. “I don't go to certain neighbourhoods anymore,” says Russel, who stands holding a dozen ducks by their legs. “My son is a rickshaw puller and in the evening, we work at a tea stall my wife runs during the day.” When asked if he'd ever been to a supermarket, he laughs and shakes his head. “Why would I go there? I don't,” he says, inadvertently echoing Nasima's words.

“There is discrimination based on social status and education,” believes Dr Zaman, “those people who feel socially and economically capable of buying from supermarkets do it because they can, rather than buying the same thing for less from any local shop. A woman will buy from a supermarket just so she can tell her neighbour that's what she's done.” This probably also plays into why people like Nasima and Russel, ironically part of the majority of Bangladesh, do not enter supermarkets – not even to sit on a bench and breathe in the air-conditioned air.

There are currently 102 supermarkets across the country, and with a population of roughly 150 million, that is relatively few. It is the majority of the population, who are not in an income bracket that allows them to afford supermarket prices, that keeps the industry from booming exponentially. The way the middle classes shop has changed to reflect their fast-paced consumerist lifestyles, inevitable products of globalisation and urbanisation. However, the local shops and bazaars will hopefully survive, retaining the old charm of buying groceries, if only because people like Nasima will continue to take her few hundred takas there.



Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2012