With butterflies in their stomachs, a host of clothing brands took up their shutters after one-and-a-half months after the government allowed them to reopen ahead of Eid-ul-Fitr, their biggest sales season that rakes in one-third their total annual sales.
But their sales since May 10 amid shortened opening hours of 10 am to 4 pm have been lacklustre at best.
"We had two options: to resume our operation or to just sit idle. We decided on the former," said Mohammd Ashraful Alam, chief executive officer of Aarong, a leading lifestyle brand.
The brand has 21 stores in total and 12 of them are open.
"Given this crisis, sales are good. But it's not our priority. The priority is to ensure the safety of our customers and workers."
To ensure social distancing, the brand is now allowing a limited number of customers to enter its stores based on capacity.
The six hours of opening time is divided into six time slots and customers are required to book a date and time on its website before calling in.
Asked about the criticism on social media for reopening at a time when the coronavirus caseload and fatalities are is escalating, Alam cited two predominant reasons.
There are about 65,000 craftsmen or artisans, who would be left with no new commission if Aarong cannot sell.
"Those artisans eventually would be jobless."
And finding no work, the workers could switch professions and that would lead to the extinction of many traditional handicraft products considered to be part of Bengali heritage.
Although Aarong's online sales have soared tenfold amid the pandemic, it is still the brick-and-mortar stores that brings most of its revenue, and especially ahead of the country's biggest sales season.
The contribution of e-commerce is only 1 per cent of Aarong's total sales, Alam said, adding that the brand's daily average daily Eid sales this year are just 10 per cent of last year's.
Monnujan Nargis, CEO of Le Reve, is somewhat satisfied with the sales this year as the customer conversion rate is 100 per cent.
The brand has opened 11 of its 17 stores in Dhaka, Narayanganj, Sylhet and Khulna, and almost all the customers who are braving it to the stores are buying something.
"The presence of customers is not that much like during other Eid, when the shopping itself became a festival. But considering this grave situation, our sales are good," she said, adding that the brand's average invoice value now is Tk 3,500.
And it is enjoying good sales online too.
Before the pandemic, only 5 per cent of the brand's total sales came from e-commerce. But now it is about 50 per cent.
To address the pandemic which contributed to decreasing people income significantly, Twelve Clothing introduced equal monthly instalment (EMI) facility for the first time in Bangladesh.
The credit cardholders of City Bank American Express, Dhaka Bank, EBL and Prime Bank now can buy products worth Tk 5,000 or above by availing the three-month EMI facility.
"We have to sell our products anyhow. If the items remain unsold, that means we will be out of cash soon," said Samia Ahmed, head of brand and marketing of Twelve.
For the first few days, the sales were not good at 10 of its 16 stores that are now open.
Then it came up with offers such as buy-one-get-one-free, special gift voucher for outlet purchase and even a 30 per cent discount on new arrivals.
"These offers are now ticking up our sales," Ahmed said, adding that its e-commerce sales have gained up to 80 per cent growth in this pandemic situation.
But for many clothing brands like Sadakalo, the reopening is not bearing any good news, said Azharul Haque Azad, managing director of Sadakalo.
Only one outlet among its 11 stores has been opened a few days ago.
"We are facing a devastating situation in our business. We thought online orders would be good, but it's not," he said, adding that the brand's online orders dropped around 70 per cent.
Soumik Das, CEO of Rang Bangladesh that has opened 5 of its 14 stores, echoed the same.
"Our online orders are also flat because lockdown created an obstacle to reach the people," he added.
With the exorbitant rent on space, almost no business in the last few months and a bleak future ahead, many brands would completely fold, Das added.
Mohoshin Alam, head of operations at Trendz that opened 4 of its 10 stores, articulated the grim situation many clothing brands are now staring at.
"We had prepared 20,000 pieces of clothing items targeting the Pahela Baishakh, the first day of the Bangla calendar. Of them, only three pieces were sold. And for Eid, we prepared 200,000 pieces and I think almost all would remain unsold."
He predicts the Eid sales this year would be just 2 per cent of last Eid.
"With such sales, most of the brands will not be able to sustain. So, the government must come to our rescue and save us from the burden of space rent and utility bills," he added.