“This is not a time for shopping. We are staying at home as part of the Covid-19 precautions,” Cairo resident Maha told her 17-year-old daughter when the latter said this was the best time of the year to buy new clothes because the sales were on.
The end of the year and Christmas season is often a time when the shops in Egypt are bustling with people preparing for the festivities and buying new clothes as is the tradition during the holidays, whether these are for Muslims or Coptic Christians.
But this year although the discount season started earlier than usual and is offering attractive prices, sales have been slow.
“The market is very bad these days despite the discounts,” one Syrian shop-owner in downtown Cairo said three days before Coptic Christmas.
Sales during 2020 had been the worst on record, said Mohamed Abdel-Nabi, assistant manager of a store in the Cairo district of Mohandessin.
“Customer purchasing habits have been totally different since the coronavirus,” Abdel-Nabi, who has been working in sales since 2013, said. Although the discounts range from 30 to 40 per cent on many items, many customers seem uninterested, he concluded.
Away from downtown Cairo in one of the malls on the Cairo-Alexandria Desert Road, the situation has been no different. Shops carry signs saying “buy two, get one free. Buy three, get two free. Discounts of up to 70 per cent... All items for LE250” and so on.
“The situation is not good this season,” said Mohamed Mustafa, a shop manager who has been working in retail for 20 years for different brands.
This year’s sales are exceptional because ordinarily they would take place at the end of October for the summer sales and the end of February for the winter ones.
According to Mustafa, the current sales are intended to get rid of inventory and find a way to bring in cash to pay rents and the salaries of employees.
“The best month for sales after the quarantine was in July, when people were allowed out after months of restricted movement. They were eager to go shopping,” he said.
Next to Mustafa’s shop, a sales assistant in a cosmetics shop said that customers had asked if there were discounts. If there weren’t, they left, she said.
The lack of demand during the discount season could be owing to a lack of trust among some customers. Eman Said, a working mother, said she usually only goes to the shops if she is sure she will find good discounts and reasonable prices, not flashy but unreal markdowns.
Said, whose husband works in the tourism sector which has suffered tremendously because of the coronavirus restrictions, said that “we as a family only buy our basic needs. The sales are no longer an opportunity in today’s financial situation.”
Another factor that may have affected demand has been the closure of shops, said Abdel-Nabi. This year, the government has made it mandatory for shops to close at 10pm, whereas previously there were no limits on when shops could close at night.
“Most customers return from work between five and six in the evening, which leaves them with little time to go shopping,” he lamented.
The slowdown in sales has also been affecting apparel suppliers and manufacturers, commented Youssef Al-Salamoni, owner of a cloth factory, though online shopping has been doing better.
“The newer Egyptian brands are selling online in order to avoid having to pay overheads like rent, electricity, and wages for store employees,” he added.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.