For 47-year-old Ganesh Kumar Nair, who is one of the key appliance dealers in Kerala, the relaxation of the Coronavirus-linked lockdown in the state from June has not brought many reasons to cheer.
Erratic store timings and local shutdown in parts of the state would mean stores losing out on customers planning to view appliances before buying them, he complains.
“If there was a fixed system for the lockdown with clear instructions on the timings, it would have been convenient for both customers and dealers. Right now, the local administration changes timings every other week and it becomes our responsibility to call up customers and inform them,” he added.
Festive season sales
The white goods market in India, currently worth about Rs 50,000 crore, is growing at about 15 percent every year.
Every year, sales worth Rs 3,000 crore are clocked between August and December when India celebrates festivals like Onam, Dussehra, Diwali, and Christmas.
Onam, specifically, is the first major festival with the onset of the festive season and is used as a metric to gauge how the entire season will pan out. The 10-day Onam festivities began on August 22 and will continue till September 2.
Pinning hopes on revenge buying
“We are hoping that the pent-up demand due to multiple lockdowns will lead to revenge buying in Kerala. After all, this is the biggest festival of the state. The industry is targeting sales worth Rs 820 crore from this Onam season, if local store conditions are ‘conducive’,” said the regional vice president (south) of a pan-India appliance maker.
Television sets, followed by refrigerators, microwave ovens, washing machines and air conditioners are the most popular appliances bought during Onam.
In 2019, white goods firms booked sales close to Rs 770 crore during Onam season. This was a significant improvement from the 2018 season, which was a washout due to the floods in Kerala.
In 2018, sales were worth only Rs 280 crore (mostly replacement demand) around Onam as families were busy recovering from the destruction of life and property caused by the floods.
What are the issues?
Due to different lockdown rules, appliance makers and dealers are having to go back and forth when it comes to store opening.
Madhavan Kurup, proprietor of Classic Home Appliances and Accessories stores, told Moneycontrol that timing restrictions and zero flexibility on entry is causing confusion.
“In Thrissur, we have been told that 4-6 pm will be set aside for senior citizens. Since we did not see any seniors coming in, the store decided to open up for the general public. Just one week after that, the district authorities told us that rules have to followed,” he said.
Kurup added that appliance buyers, who are working professionals, prefer the evening slots. He explained that if that slot is set aside for senior citizens, others will be dissuaded from visiting stores.
Triple lockdown worries
The triple lockdown, announced earlier in Thiruvananthapuram, is only adding chaos to the confusion.
The head of Kerala sales at a South-India based appliance dealer told Moneycontrol that while ‘triple lockdown’ has been officially lifted, movement restrictions continue.
“There is no single rule in the entire city and it becomes difficult if a store is located in a cluster. In some areas, movement of vehicles is allowed, while in others it is not. This is heavily affecting sales. Mere delivery of products, based on e-commerce, won’t work,” he said.
Triple lockdown means one for containment zones, one for clusters of COVID-19 where patients are staying in quarantine, and, the third, for households/buildings of those infected and their contacts.
The district administration has informed stores that they should follow ‘adequate’ social distancing at all times.
But consumer durables firms want clear guidelines with exact timings. The south cluster manager of a multinational appliance firm said that what is required is one guideline for everyone, and not vague advisories.
“If you tell us to follow social distancing, different stores could interpret it in different ways. Some are reducing timings while others are opening on alternate days. This will only result in stores being forced to shut, if people start crowding due to fears of stocks selling out,” he added.
On August 26, Kerala added 2,476 COVID-19 cases, the highest- ever single-day surge, taking the total infection count to 64,354. There were 13 new deaths, taking the final toll, as of Wednesday, to 257.