First News
Volume:7, Number:41
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Business & Finance 1

The Slow Stride

| Afsana Khan |

Sri Lanka being a country of 22 million has 240 super shops, whereas Bangladesh has 160 million people but only about 200 supershops

Super shops have taken some steady and assuring strides forward in cities over the years. From fresh meat, fruits, and vegetables, to frozen food, dairy, baked, canned and packaged goods, as well as various nonfood items such as household cleaners, pharmacy products, stationery, utensils, electronic gazettes, pet supplies, pretty much everything we need in our day- to-day life is available under one roof in a super shop. For shopping convenience, not only upper-class consumers, but middleclass consumers too, are increasingly frequenting super shops. However, most customers are disappointed by the overall experience.

For shoppers, who maintain a fixed budget, the excessive price of goods at super shops is a matter of great concern. In these shops, customers have to pay a VAT on their purchases. However, they can buy the same products from general stores without having to pay a VAT. The fixed price of products is also an issue for budget shoppers, because super shops charge more than market prices for most products. As a result, buying from super shops instead of general shops is financially less profitable for a customer. At the same time, a number of renowned super shop outlets have been fined by the Anti-Corruption Commission’s (ACC) mobile court for stocking counterfeit and substandard products. Consequently, customers have started to lose faith in these super shops. The businessmen associated with this sector say business has been stagnant for a while. Various obstacles have hindered the expected progress of this sector. The government is yet to issue a proper policy for this sector. Currently, over 25 thousand people are directly or indirectly involved with super shops, the businessmen added.

According to the Business Supermarket Owners’ Association (BSOA), currently there are over 200 super shops in Dhaka City alone. Some prominent super shops have outlets in other cities of the country as well. The most renowned super shops are Shwapno, Agora, Meena Bazar, Nandan, Prince Bazar, Shop and Save, Almas, Family Care, Lavender, Pick and Pay, Family Needs, Checkers Digital, Amana Supershop, Oceania, Arabi, G-Mart, Shaptarshi, Family World, and Family Touch. The main reason for the popularity of super shops is the steady rise of nuclear families with working parents in the cities. As these urban professionals have less time for shopping, The Slow Stride Sri Lanka being a country of 22 million has 240 super shops, whereas Bangladesh has 160 million people but only about 200 supershops Most of the shoppers complain about high prices and substandard products in the super shops in Dhaka having a huge variety of products under one roof is very convenient for them. However, most of the shoppers complain about the high prices but substandard quality of products. Some shoppers said that while the super shops charge extra money on the basis of providing fresh, pesticidefree produce, most of the time the fruits and vegetables are substandard in quality. By comparison, street vegetable/ fruit vendors can provide much fresher and cleaner produce at a relatively cheaper price. The same goes for meat and fish as well.

Akibur Rahman, assistant operations manager at super shop Shwapno’s Monipuripara outlet, claimed they have enforced strict monitoring to ensure the freshest quality of vegetables for customers. At this outlet, one kilogram of packaged dates is sold for BDT320, whereas the market price is BDT280 per kilogram. About the discrepancy in price, he said: “We sell the best quality available in the market, so the price is a little higher.” Tanjum Ara, a regular customer at super shops said, “I come with the belief that the super shops sell quality products. I am a working woman, so I am always pressed for time. I shop from here because everything is available under the same roof.” Another customer, Polly Akhter said, “The supershops charge a lot more than the market price of most products. Many of the so-called high quality products turned out to be substandard after I unpacked them at home.”

With the establishment of Agora and Meenabazar in 2001, super shops launched their journey in Bangladesh. In 2008, super shop Shwapno joined the race and eventually became the market leader. Although many other super shops have arrived over the years, the sector could not live up to expectations. Many super shops had to shut down multiple outlets to avoid losses. Sources said that there are a number of reasons behind the stagnant state of the super shop business. This business requires huge investment at the very beginning, but it takes time to become profitable. This sector has not received much government support. Super shops have to pay a lot of taxes to import goods. The government has imposed a two percent tax on sales as well. As a result, the progress in this sector has come to a standstill.

According to a USAID study, while the supershop business is booming in neighboring countries like India and Sri Lanka, Bangladesh is not achieving much success in it. The population of Sri Lanka is only 22 million, but they have 240 super shops all across the country. By comparison, Bangladesh being a country of 160 million people, has only about 200 supershops. BSOA general secretary Zakir Hossain said, “This business could not be expanded to its optimal level. India came to this business way after us, but now they have left us behind by miles. The mobile court raids have severely damaged the super shops’ reputation. Without proper government assistance, this sector will not be able to expand or develop further. The government should take immediate steps to formulate a proper policy. BSOA has come up with a policy prescription of its own and submitted it to the commerce and industries ministry, but has got no answer yet.”

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