Aarong seeks to avoid crowding in its outlets through a mandatory online pre-booking system
Aarong, a lifestyle brand that reflects Bangladeshi heritage, used to make 10 percent of its annual Tk1,000 crore sales from Pohela Baishakh, and 35 percent from Eid-ul-Fitr shoppers.
But both selling occasions have been lost to the one and half month-long shutdown that has resulted in stockpiling of products worth Tk100 crore and much higher sales losses at the supplier level.
Operated by Brac Enterprises, the retail chain is reopening two-thirds of its outlets from Sunday (May 10) mainly to keep their suppliers – small entrepreneurs who are suffering from erosion of working capital – afloat.
The brand is going to buy out all the stockpiles from its 65,000 suppliers with proper payment, though it is not sure how long the central stockpile might take to exhaust.
"Maybe six to 12 months," said Tamara Hasan Abed, managing director of Brac Enterprises.
The government has allowed shopping malls to reopen from Sunday to let businesses to carry on before Eid, but with proper measures – social distancing, sanitisation and wearing masks – to avoid spreading Covid-19.
But the most popular shopping malls in the main cities have decided not to reopen while the infection curve is on the rise, public transportation remains suspended, the need for people to stay at home is in effect, and while purchasing power is low because of the pandemic.
However, Aarong plans to ensure there is no crowding in its outlets through a mandatory online pre-booking system for a one-hour shopping time slot – for the first time in Bangladesh.
The brand has 21 outlets across the country. Of those, two in Narayanganj city and one in Dhaka's Basabo area will remain closed as the areas are considered to be Covid-19 hotspots.
Outlets at the Jamuna and Bashundhara shopping malls will also remain closed as the concerned mall authorities have decided not to reopen before Eid. Aarong outlets in Sylhet and Cumilla cities will also remain closed for the same reason.
Aarong has requested its customers not to bring children or senior citizens to the outlets as their immunity levels are considered to be low in general.
To maintain social distancing, each outlet has created a limited number of hourly slots to let customers enter and stay.
Only 30 percent of Aarong's staff will serve at a time. The authorities will provide sanitised vehicles to help staff members commute, and their central health checking effort will continue.
Aarong is also encouraging digital payment to reduce the risk of infection through cash handling.
Masked customers will get sanitisation support during entry, and will not enjoy any opportunity to try out clothing in the outlets. Product returns will also be halted until the pandemic ends.
"Customers can return any product within a month after the pandemic ends," said the managing director.
While speaking to the media at an online briefing on Saturday, she called for greater awareness and patience among customers to keep things alright.
"Aarong's profits are spent on the welfare of disadvantaged people. Half of its profits are spent for expansion of the business itself, and the rest goes to the mother organisation Brac's development programmes aimed at poverty alleviation," Tamara Hasan Abed said.
If online orders fail to satisfy customers, they will have to browse aarong.com and choose a specific hour between 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for Eid shopping.