The economy is in a bad shape. Prices of everything from salt to cars are skyrocketing. “Gloom and doom” theories seem to be the flavour of newscasts.

It is not a pretty picture, certainly not what a Malayali wants to be constantly reminded of in the days leading to Onam, Kerala’s biggest festival. But that is how it is this time.

But the crowds in stores in the city belie any sense of doom. Take a look at the floor of a leading clothing showroom, if you can go anywhere near it jostling through the crowd.

Most shoppers make a puzzled expression, and say something to mean “But it’s Onam” to the question of whether they have cut down on splurging.

The “harvest” festival has assumed vastly different proportions over the past decades with people in high-paying jobs ready to burn disposable cash. The shopping baskets are full of clothes, electronic goods and household appliances.

“It is a tradition, and while we may sacrifice on the frequency of buying things during the rest of the year, it is just not right to stay indoors this time round,” Rajeev George, a bank employee, says.

Were it not for the high inflation and fuel prices, he would have splurged on some luxury goods, such as a smartphone, for himself.

New clothes

“The traditional ‘Onakkodi’ for everyone in the family and immediate necessities in the house climb up the list of priorities. The way things are, there is obviously no room for indulgence,” he says.

But leading appliances and electronics stores in the city have not yet been dealt the crushing blow of dipping revenues during Onam.

“Over the past few weeks, we expected a certain volume of customers, but that was missing. The queues are shorter and the store less crowded which prompted us to study our records and compare it with last year’s. Then we realised that purchases of high-end goods such as the latest smartphone on the market, digital cameras or wide-screen LED television sets have actually risen,” Soundar Pandian, sales manager of a showroom, says.

But, he says, the purchases of more basic items, such as household appliances, made by middle income groups have taken a hit.

New trend

“They are the ones who mostly come here for grinders, refrigerators and basic washing machines, but the sales of these products have been lower than those last year. We can give figures only after the festival season, but so far this is the trend we noticed — of fewer customers but revenue not dipping below average,” Mr. Pandian says. But most clothing stores have had to brace themselves for an unprecedented rush even on weekdays.

Staggering

“On Sunday, the turnout was staggering and at one point in the evening, we even had to stand at the entrance and warn customers to come another day considering how packed the store was,” Avinesh Arjunan, managing partner of an apparel store, says.

People have more options than before.

The showrooms, however, have to cater to the growing and more diverse demands of customers.

Unchanged potential

The purchasing potential of the clientele of premium shopping destinations seems to be unaffected.

“We found that for most customers, it is the experience of just wandering through the store that often draws them back. It is a family outing of sorts and the average sales compared with those of previous years are found to be slightly higher, though the prices of most items have risen by about 10-20 per cent,” G.S. Joy, customer relations officer of a premium store, says.

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