Coronavirus: Businesses see online Ramadan bazaars as lifeline but hope for better days

Online bazaars like Gobaza.sg has thrown a much-needed lifeline to many home-based retailers.
Online bazaars like Gobaza.sg has thrown a much-needed lifeline to many home-based retailers.PHOTO: GOBAZA.SG/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Despite the closure of Ramadan bazaars due to circuit breaker measures, Malay cuisine stall owner Zuliza Zulkifli has been busy.

Her business profits this year have exceeded last year's haul for the same period and orders for Thursday (May 21) have been closed since she is fully booked.

The 42-year-old, who runs Nasi Ambeng Asli Jurong West, has turned to online platforms to market her wares during the Ramadan period. Much like other merchants, she relies on sales during the festivities for a seasonal windfall.

Despite her initial misgivings about going digital, her business has reaped many rewards from the move, especially since she no longer has to fork out $10,000 to $12,000 to set up a physical stall at the bazaar, something she had routinely done up until this year.

"It has been so good for my business. I have sold out on quite a few days, and we are making more money than before. My customers used to live mostly in the west, but now they come from areas like Tampines and Punggol," she said.

Still, she misses mingling with other stall owners and artistes at the bazaars and is disappointed that she will have to wait till next year to experience once more the smell of many different foods wafting through the air.

Noting that business this year does not mean digital channels are more useful, she added: "Many people could be worried about leaving the house and so are ordering food to be delivered. I'll probably still have a stall next year, but could make my online presence bigger."

The launch of several virtual Ramadan bazaars has thrown a much-needed lifeline to many home-based retailers who rely on Ramadan sales. The online bazaars allow businesses to list their contact details and goods on their sites, connecting them with customers at a time when face-to-face sales are no longer possible.

Among these are platforms like B. Halal and Gobaza.sg,as well as BazaarRia, a platform jointly launched by DBS and its client Mi Planets on Monday, which is already used by more than 800 merchants.

 
 
 

These platforms often help businesses who are not used to digital operations set up their listings so that they can make the best use of what is available. Services are often free, although on some platforms, merchants can pay to secure a space for advertisements.

Madam Normah Abas, owner of floral decor business ZN Exclusive Creation, said sales had gone down to zero for a spell of time during the circuit breaker period. She then signed up on BazaarRia - with the help of DBS - and has seen "a steady pick-up".

Now, she is even considering closing her physical shop after the Covid-19 outbreak is over to save on rental costs.

"We have always been open to going online but just did not know how to," she said. "Going online has helped us a lot by enabling us to still earn money."

She had estimated a 70 per cent drop in sales before the digital move but is now hopeful of a better showing.

Listing platforms have pulled out all the stops to give merchants a boost and recapture the conviviality of Hari Raya Aidilfitri celebrations. Gobaza.sg has, for instance, held "go live" sessions where vendors are interviewed to give them a chance to promote their products.

BazaarRia has sought to innovate via its payment system, integrating it with DBS' mobile-based QR payment collection method so customers can pay simply by scanning a PayNow QR code with their mobile phones.

A similar People's Association initiative, GeylangBazaar.Online, has included delivery to customers.

Still, it remains to be seen if such measures are enough. Ms Hazirah Abdul Halim, owner of Haifa Areta, a home-based Hari Raya Aidilfitri apparel business, said her sales have dropped by half during the pandemic.

 
 
 

This is despite her operations being primarily based online and despite her signing up on multiple new platforms.

"My main challenge was not in shifting (my operations to digital), but rather to juggle, upkeep and adapt to multiple new platforms.

"With a bit of a boost, merchants like myself hope to maintain our businesses and break even with the profits earned," she said.