Attar sellers of Bengaluru struggle to keep shops open as sales dip

Bengaluru’s attar sellers have taken a hit due to the COVID-19 pandemic as they largely rely on international tourists for business.
Entrance to a perfume shop on Infantry Road, Bengaluru
Entrance to a perfume shop on Infantry Road, Bengaluru

The streets of Bengaluru’s Shivajinagar, lined with food stalls, shops that sell everything from clothes to footwear, and more, attract shoppers from across the city. Walking through the crowds, and past numerous stores, you come across small fragrance-filled shops selling attar (perfume). But in spite of the people on the streets, these stops remain largely empty and the shopkeepers can be found standing at the entrance, hopefully waiting for customers to enter. 

Asma Perfume Shop is on Infantry Road in Shivajinagar. The shop workers sit outside sipping tea while they watch people walk by. They say business has been slow. With branches in the city as well as in Chennai and Kochi, this perfume shop is a multi-generational family-owned business. They say that they have never experienced a slump like this before. According to Mohammad Aslam of Asma Perfume shop, the reduction in international tourists and the fear of an impending second wave of COVID-19 has caused the business to take a hit.

Collection of Attars, Perfumes and oud at Asma on Infantry Road

“Even after the government eased the lockdown restrictions, it has not helped us much as there’s no footfall at the shop. The major share of our revenue comes from tourists, especially those from the Gulf Countries,” says Aslam. “We also used to export our perfumes and opened a shop in Sri Lanka. With the curbs on transport owing to COVID-19, we aren’t able to carry out any business.”

Until the coronavirus pandemic and the lockdown, most of these attar shops had been managing by exporting their products and selling to foreign clientele and some local buyers. But now the attar makers and sellers say they are struggling to stay afloat.

ISR Perfume World, which sells attars, incense sticks and perfume oils, is nestled in the busy Jewellery Street of Shivajinagar market. Irfan Shariff says that the recently opened shop sees very little business, and their branches in Mysuru and Kochi have been shut down because of no customers. “Everyone is struggling to survive, and people have cut down their expenses on luxury items like attars. This in turn is impacting our livelihood. We had a lot of customers in the city, however, not many have bought from us now owing to their struggles,” says Shariff. “Almost all the operations have come to a standstill since the pandemic and the lockdown.” He further adds that their shops in Mysuru and Kochi have been completely shut. “The shop in Kochi was entirely dependent on tourism unlike the one in Bengaluru,” says Shariff.

Suhail Anjum has been overseeing business at Imaad Perfumes, opposite Shah Sultan Mosque, for nearly two decades now. He says that in the past year even during the festive season sales were low. “Our operations are open throughout the year, but during festivals like Diwali, Ramzan, we usually see an increase in sales,” says Anjum. “We were expecting sales to rise a little during festival time, however, there were not many takers. Owing to the lockdown and the pandemic, the buyers have drastically reduced.”

Now, the attar sellers are trying new ways and methods to sell their products. They are exploring going digital and selling their perfumes and incense sticks on e-commerce platforms like Flipkart and Amazon, thereby reaching a wider customer base. Anjum says that they are still figuring out the process. “We do not have an online site yet. We are also trying to figure out selling our attars and ouds through e-commerce sites like Amazon,” says Anjum.  While Shariff says, “Although we used to deliver to our regular customers based on online orders placed through WhatsApp messenger, we are now considering e-commerce sites as an option to boost our sales.”

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