Coronavirus: Ramadan bazaar sellers turn to online platforms to clear stock and recoup losses

Ms Roselin Khatoon's apartment, which is filled with goods that she had ordered for plans to sell at the Ramadan Bazaar at Geylang, which has since been cancelled.
Ms Roselin Khatoon's apartment, which is filled with goods that she had ordered for plans to sell at the Ramadan Bazaar at Geylang, which has since been cancelled.ROSELIN KHATOON

SINGAPORE - For the past few weeks, Ms Roselin Khatoon's apartment has looked less like a home and more like a warehouse.

Stocks of bottles of cookies, packs of chips and other Hari Raya snacks she had planned to sell at a Ramadan bazaar are all over her three-room Housing Board flat, which now feels like an obstacle course.

And with news last month that all bazaars would be cancelled, the quality assurance inspector at an engineering firm who is in her 50s was prepared to lose some of the $70,000 she had invested in the goods she had ordered.

But this might not now be the case, thanks to new online bazaar platform B. Halal, one of several new platforms providing a channel for Muslim consumers to buy their Ramadan and Hari Raya goods.

To be launched on Monday (April 20), the platform is an app-based listing of Hari Raya-centric businesses such as Ms Roselin's.

It is started by Web designer Muhammad Alkhatib and businessman Hamdan Razali who have partnered veteran bazaar operator En Niche Events and event management company S-Lite Group to organise a virtual marketplace in the wake of the cancelled bazaars.

B. Halal is free for any business to join and will also feature a livestreamed variety show hosted by top celebrities that businesses can pay to be featured on.

The show is currently planned to be streamed twice a week.

Ms Roselin, founder of #IceboxCookies, which is her festive snack business that has been around for more than three years, said of the platform: "Hopefully with this, I can clear the stock I have. I have accepted what has happened already but this B. Halal is the best I can do now, and I hope people will want to buy my kuih online."

On March 18, the People's Association (PA) said that all the bazaars it usually organises will not be returning this year in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the need to practise social distancing in public venues.

As part of Singapore's circuit breaker measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, events such as the bazaars, which would see a large numbers of people congregating, will not be allowed to take place.

 
 

The bazaars are known for the wide variety of food, festive clothes and household decorations for shoppers.

On Saturday, PA announced that it had launched an e-commerce platform intended to replace the bazaar, which will include delivery to customers.

The platform, called GeylangBazaar.Online, will provide a service to collect goods from vendors who have signed on with PA, and arrange for the goods to be delivered.

Platforms such as B. Halal, with its free listing and variety show star power, are determined to stand apart from the rest.

Mr Mustaffa Shah, founder of En Niche Events, said of B. Halal: "Many of these people who have signed up with us are bazaar regulars who have been in the bazaar business for the longest of times and are solely dependent on the Malay Muslim market."

Another platform looking to stand out is Gobaza.sg, an online portal for merchants to sign up and be listed for free on its portal.

For those who are keen to be featured more prominently, Gobaza offers advertisement spaces for between $199 and $699.

The portal, which went live on April 13 and has almost 50 merchants listed, is the brainchild of Mr Khairul Yunos, 30, and his two partners.

They are also co-founders of Hubreno, a social commerce app which developed Gobaza.

He told The Straits Times that besides merchants, community partners can also create accounts to upload their Ramadan projects, such as donation drives and distribution of necessities to their needy beneficiaries.

"We hope that all those merchants who are affected by the cancellation of the bazaar this year can leverage on us for their business using our platform," he said, adding that Gobaza will continue to be live even after Ramadan is over.

 
 
 

One such affected merchant is Mr Abdul Hakam Ibrahim, 31, who had planned to sell fried food in three different bazaars this year and had spent about $7,000 on dried goods.

When he heard about Gobaza's platform, he jumped at the chance to get his products listed on it.

"Our speciality is not delivery. We want to do so but we do not have many riders and we don't have the infrastructure or experience.

"The sales will also not be as good, but this is like survival mode, we have to do what we have to do to get some income," he said.

Also getting a slice of the e-bazaar pie is Miss Nurshahidah Ahmad, 26, who, with two other partners, created an Instagram page called bazaarrayasg2020.

The page, which currently has more than 3,000 followers, charges businesses between $30 and $50 to be featured on it.

It launched last Friday and has featured more than 25 businesses.

Miss Nurshahidah said she is unfazed by the tough competition from other bigger platforms.

"I don't see it as competition, and sellers need any kind of platform they can get to get their goods out," she said.

Business owners such as Ms Zuliza Zulkifli of Nasi Ambeng Asli Jurong West agree that having more platforms to reach out to more customers online is a good thing.

The 42-year-old has spent the past 12 years working in Ramadan Bazaar stalls selling nasi ambeng.

 
 

Using platforms like Gobaza is a big change for her but she is determined to look on the bright side, such as not having to commute to the bazaars every day.

She is also glad that there is no rental fee to pay for a stall, which in past years can go for as high as $14,000 a month.

"Of course, the atmosphere is not the same now. I miss no longer being there, and everyone who has been there will miss the noise, the sights and sounds, and smells," she added.

"But we do what we can to get by, and instead we can look forward to enjoying (the bazaar) next year."