High inflation dampens Lahori shoppers’ spirit

By Nasir Jamal

LAHORE, Sept 27: The energy and food price inflation can be blamed for taking the shine off Eid shopping in the Punjab capital this year.

“There are fewer people out in the markets for shopping this year than ever,” says a retailer from Lahore’s famous Anarkali Bazaar as he awaits customers.

With Eid only three days away, the markets are not drawing crowds even during evenings or late nights.

“Of course, we remain busy after Iftar, but the crowds seen in the previous years are no longer there,” says another retailer from Ichhra, a lower-middle class locality.

“The reasons for the lacklustre pre-Eid business activity are obvious: people don’t have enough disposable money to spend on clothing and shoes, the two items that sell the most before Eid,” he argues.

The headline inflation has doubled to 24 per cent during the two first months of the current fiscal from annual average of 12 per cent for the previous year.

Food prices, which hit the poor to fixed income middle-class consumers directly, too have doubled to above 34 per cent in the same period.

The power tariff has recorded a huge rise of 47 per cent in less than three months and transportation expenditure spiked to new highs due to hike in oil and gas prices, eroding the purchase capacity of the fixed income groups.

But, a Mall Road retailer insists, the increase in garment and shoe prices haven’t kept pace with inflation.

“It is simply not possible to pass on the total impact of inflation in our prices,” he argues.

The product quality manager of a chain of garments stores says: “We make garments for the middle class women. We, therefore, keep our prices and margins lower than other retailers to get more volumes. This year, however, the sales have been too slow to generate enough volumes. This is despite the fact that we passed on to consumers only a fraction of the increase in our production cost,” he observed.

When prices rise and incomes stagnate, an economics teacher at a private university says, the people tend to first cut their spending on clothing, shoes, etc., to avoid debt.

“If that doesn’t help, they try to reduce their essential spending on health care, education and food. Rise in inflation and stagnant income adversely reduce the lifestyle of the middle income groups,” he said.

That is only one side of the coin. The rich and the affluent of the city, however, appear least bothered about the price inflation.

The increasing energy and food crisis have made no difference to their lifestyle or spending habits.

Specialised brand stores and upscale markets in the city are filled with rich shoppers at any given hour of the day.

“The prices are really high this year. But we have to buy what we have to buy,” says a young man at a trendy garments shop on M M Alam Road in Gulberg.

“If you need two pairs of jeans, you cannot make do with one. Can you?” he wonders, oblivious of the fact that a vast portion of country’s population cannot afford two meals a day let alone the luxury of new cloths even on the Eid day

Source: Daily dawn, 28/9/2008

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