"What! You're asking for Tk 1,500 for this! What do you think? Don't I know the price of this pair of shoes?" Rafiqul Islam, the father of a 4-year-old daughter, was having a heated argument with Farhad Ahmed, owner of a footwear shop at City Supermarket on New Elephant Road in Dhaka in the first week of Ramadan.
Rafiqul came to buy shoes for his children, but he said the traders were asking him for an exorbitant price. "Why would someone buy shoes at Elephant Road shops if they need to spend Tk 1,500?" he said.
Seller Farhad, on the other hand, said his shop was one of the oldest in that market, with some customers visiting it regularly. "If he had been one of our regular customers, he would have known that footwear prices shot up. Besides, children's shoes are always expensive."
Sellers and buyers were seen haggling over footwear prices in markets like Jahanara Bhaban, Gafur Mansion, Chowrangi Bhaban on Elephant Road, Bashundhara City Shopping Complex, and the makeshift shoe stores on the footpaths of Farmgate.
Bargaining for a product is nothing unusual, but shoppers and sellers say footwear prices have increased abnormally compared to last year’s Ramadan.
The customers alleged all the sellers raised prices at a time to force the customers to buy at exorbitant prices.
The retailers acknowledged the prices are much higher than last year, but added it was beyond their means to control the costs as they buy the footwear from the wholesale market at a high price.
Shilpi Begum came to City Market for footwear for her children in the first week of Ramadan as he thought the crowds at the markets would get bigger and the prices would go further up with the Eid nearing.
She was tired of searching for a pair of good quality shoes at an affordable price. "But the prices are already high. Only Allah knows what will happen later," she said.
City Market had more customers than Jahanara Bhaban and Gafur Mansion, where worried shopkeepers tried to woo anyone passing by their shops.
Suraiya Jahan, a customer, said she brought her brother to Lotus Bazar at Jahanara Bhaban because she had heard quality shoes were available at a reasonable price there.
“But the sellers are asking a price far more than the branded footwear. They ask for Tk 1,700-1,800 for a pair of loafers made of artificial leather," she said.
"I was looking for a pair of jutti [sequin studded traditional flat sandals for women] for myself. But nothing is available under Tk 1,500-2,000. A decent slipper would cost you a minimum of Tk 700. Maybe, I'll skim across the shops today. I'll buy something if it matches my budget, or else I'll buy it on the eve of Eid," she said.
Nawrin Jahan, another customer at Chowrangi Bhaban, was also discontented with the exorbitant prices. "I don't think I'll be able to buy anything today," she said.
WHY PRICE HIKED?
Retailers at Elephant Road said customers were grumbling over the prices because footwear cost rose by 30 percent on an average.
"The pair of shoes we bought at Tk 100 earlier, now we buy at Tk 130. Then we must make a profit of Tk 200 while selling it," said Zahir Hossain, who has been working as a salesman at Lotus Bazar for 12 years.
“The situation is beyond our control. We will be compelled to shut the business if we can't make a profit of Tk 200 from a pair of shoes. Currently, the transport cost for a pair of shoes stands at Tk 50. Then we must pay the electricity bill, shop rent, staff salary, and other costs totalling around Tk 200 per pair of footwear. These expenses have gone up. So, both customers and traders are suffering."
Zahir said that footwear imported from China was always transported to Bangladesh by ships. But the existing dollar crunch at home made the traders unable to open LCs and thus, the shoes were brought by air cargo.
"So the wholesale price went up, and they extracted that amount from us. Also, prices of locally made shoes increased as the raw materials were imported and became dearer."
Earlier, the wholesale prices for Chinese sneakers ranged between Tk 1,100 and Tk 1,200, said Md Shamsul Haque, working at Alifa Shoes in Gafur Mansion. "Now we have to buy it for Tk 1,400. Keds [canvas top, rubber soles sneakers], sneakers, boots or shoes, and the price of all footwear went up by at least Tk 100 a pair. Local products also became pricier, but customers don't realise that."
Usually, men buy more of 'half shoes' or slippers as they match well with traditional attire like paijama-panjabi during the festival of Eid, he said. But that buying spree was yet to begin, as footwear is the last item people buy to celebrate Eid.
"Everyone buys clothes first. Currently, we're selling some ladies' and children's items. Men will come for shoes after the 20th of Ramadan," said Shamsul.
The price of each pair of shoes increased by Tk 100-150, said Swarna Shoes owner Mohammad Manzur Hossain.
He said the wholesalers charge them extra Tk 200-300 citing different reasons like the cost of air shipment. "Customers can buy vegetables at a higher price, but their budget always drops while buying shoes," he said.
The wholesalers flare up the difficulties in opening LCs for import, said Shafi Gazi, a staffer at Parash Moni Shoes in Chowrangi Bhaban. "The government already relaxed the rules on LC opening; otherwise how could they import [the footwear.]?"
"Our sales speed up in the last 10 days of Ramadan. For now, how can people buy shoes
when the prices of essentials skyrocketed," said Parvez Hossain of Akhi Shoes at Chowrangi Bhaban.
Prominent footwear brands like Bata and Apex said they started to have their Eid sales.
Apex has introduced 2,000 new designs for this Eid. “We’re expecting profits to increase by 50 percent,” said Mohammad Shameem Sheikh, senior store manager of Apex.
He said the sale was quite good on the first three days of Ramadan, as they coincided with holidays.
Shameem said the prices of their products were not affected. "Usually, we plan for Eid at least six months earlier. We have an export business, so our prices are not affected. Although it gives us a lower profit, we kept the same prices as before," he said.
Bata was also experiencing good sales marking the upcoming Eid-ul-Fitr, said its sales executive Tahmina, who gave a single name. "We're having a good sale as many customers visited during the holidays," she said.
"I've been working here for the last five years. Despite the skyrocketing prices of essentials, the number of our customers hasn’t changed. Prices of some of our products went up, but very nominally," she said.
[Writing in English by Sabrina Karim Murshed; editing by Osham-ul-Sufian Talukder]