Traders in the Pettah upbeat... : Sales poised to pick up | Sunday Observer

Traders in the Pettah upbeat... : Sales poised to pick up

Shoppers look for the best with one week to go for Christmas   Pix: Saman Mendis

Christmas and New Year is a time for celebrations and sharing happiness with the less privileged. It’s a season when people spend time and money on themselves as well as on others.

However, this festive season neither the shop owners nor the frenzied shoppers seem to look forward to celebrate the season on a grand scale. When the Sunday Observer spoke to a section of traders and customers in the Pettah, and the suburbs of Wattala and Hendala, there was a mixed reaction among the various sections of shop owners and customers...

The taxes on commodities, the high labour cost adding to the overheads and the low purchasing power of consumers is alleged to have dealt a major blow from the high end cloth retailers, to the greeting card seller along the streets of Colombo and the suburbs.

The increase of the Value Added Tax from 11 to 15 percent this year has had a severe impact on commodity prices, which has adversely affected sales of retailers whose shops are patronized by only a few people, with less than ten days to go for Christmas and a fortnight for the New Year.

Retailers’ Association President Hussain Sadique said there is a slight improvement in the buying pattern this time due to the credit card offers by banks.

The credit card offers by banks is the only encouraging factor for shoppers who are making use of it to purchase stuff, he said.

Many varieties

“Usually, my shop is filled with customers during the first and second week of December. But, this time around it has not been the case, since people have no money to buy the stuff they usually buy for the season. As a result, sales have dropped by around 50 percent,” a leading retail trader in the Pettah, said.

A grocery shop owner in Pettah said, the prices of rice have sky rocketed making it beyond the reach of the average housewife. The price of many varieties have shot up to over Rs. 100 a kg and would very likely reach Rs. 110 within the next few days, if there is no mechanism to address the crisis.

“The rice mafia has been there under every government, where the big mill owners dominate the industry. There must be an end to this mafia. The government should provide facilities for small scale paddy farmers to operate mills so that there would be adequate rice in the country and the industry will not be dominated by a few, backed by politicians” a retailer said.

Adequate supply

The traders opined, it is sad that the country has to import poor quality rice from neighbouring countries when Sri Lanka was at one time known as the granary of the East. There should be a proper mechanism, whichever government is in power, to ensure the adequate supply of rice at a reasonable price, for all.

A shoe shop owner in Wattala said, his sales have plummeted by around 30 percent due to the drastic drop in the buying power of the people. Many shoe shops have sprung up in the area, resulting in stiff competition.

People who patronize shops in large numbers are not found today. The prices of branded shoes and slippers have gone up sharply making it unaffordable to many.

“Normally, there is a demand for shoes for schooling and other occasions during this time of the year. However, customers did not turn up the way they used to in previous years. I have to pay Rs. 1,000 a month to the Pradeshiya Sabha as rent, and pay the electricity and water bills, too. I have to cope with minimum facilities” a shoe shop owner in Hendala said.

Cheap brands

Textile and garment shop owners in Wattala said, the mushrooming of shops in the area and the high labour cost have made business unsustainable for them.

‘We have to pay the staff and other utility bills which are high today. Customers are reluctant to buy clothes. They go for a few cheap brands unlike in previous years, when the whole family bought clothes for the festive season. Our sales has dropped drastically, compared to previous years’, a retail trader said.

However, the shop keepers are optimistic and believe sales would pick up with the approach of Christmas and the New Year. Their only hope is on eleventh hour shoppers who would ignore prices and go for stuff that would bring joy during the festive season.

The greeting cards sellers lament they are in a precarious situation, as the need to send cards is no more, with the availability of facebook and Internet facilities. Hardly a card is sold a day, a card seller in Pettah said.

The use of e-cards and the high postage cost are major impediments that has impacted the greeting card industry. The price of greeting cards range from Rs. 30 to Rs. 100, today.

‘This is the last time I will be selling cards as there is no business. I have not sold even 10 cards since December 1. I used to sell around 30 to 40 cards a day, three to four years ago. Today, there is hardly anyone buying cards as they could greet someone through facebook and email with no cost incurred,” a card seller in Wattala said.


Fire-cracker sellers in Pettah too had similar tales, saying they had to purchase at a higher price as taxes have been imposed on gun powder.

‘When people have no money to eat how could they afford fire-crackers. They prefer to buy food rather than burn money on crackers” a fire-cracker seller said.

The number of fatal injuries too has affected the sales of fire-crackers. The number of patients with injuries caused by fire crackers has been fluctuating and has not declined, according to hospital sources.

The crib sellers are no better with the price of a bundle of straw doubling within a year, from Rs. 350 to Rs. 600. Wood prices too have increased, resulting in the cost of production going up. The price of a two feet long crib has increased from Rs. 350 to Rs. 500.

“Sales have not been good so far, but we expect it to be better within the next few days” crib sellers in Wattala said. The price of decorations however has remained stationary, while those imported from China have gone up, retailers said. Those who made decorations in the country have gradually given up, as imported stuff have been flooding the market.


“There is no demand for our products and no incentives for local decoration makers” a decoration seller said.

Shoppers who are yet few in number said, they cannot afford the prices of goods which have increased sharply during the year.

The prices of ingredients have gone up several fold. People are compelled to limit the quantity of food items owing to the staggering prices of ingredients.

However, the government through the 2017 Budget reduced the indirect taxes to 60% from 80%, and slashed the price of dhal by Rs10, potatoes Rs.5, sprats Rs.5, white sugar Rs.2, kerosene Rs.5 and gas by Rs. 25 on a 12.5kg cylinder.