By Saad Al-Dosari
13 July 2015
Eid as a religious event symbolizes simplicity, sharing and happiness but Muslims, in one way or the other, have transformed this event into a consumerism fiesta. For the retail markets in these countries, it is the main season of the year.
You start noticing the beginning of the season once Ramadan enters the end of its second week; traffic will exponentially increase, and the decision to visit a mall is no less of an adventure.
Somehow this shopping hysteria crept into our cultural conscience, its roots were concealed in the religious messages of Eid; to signal new beginnings, to celebrate accomplishing all the good deeds in Ramadan, and to share happiness with those least fortunate. Around 30 years ago, buying one or two new dresses for each one in the family was all what it took to celebrate Eid. It was a season then, as it is a season now, but with less hysteria and less profit margins. Along the way since, with the help of marketing techniques and merchants’ offers and consumers’ acceptance, the season boomed, or better to say, radically changed. The one or two dresses are no longer enough; let’s make them 10. Also, they better be branded and high end, and let’s not forget the gifts for the whole family, and the Swiss chocolates for the guests.
In a matter of days, the basics of economics kicked in, demand suddenly exceeded supply throwing the whole market’s balance away and causing prices to hike in an unreasonable fashion. According to many retail merchants, the sale numbers grow three to four folds in this time of year and prices swing between 100 percent to 200 percent increase compared to out of season prices. It is an opportunity the merchants do not hesitate to take advantage of, and consumers never stop to complain about.
Retail traders have many arguments to support their positions; the demand is high forcing them to move products in higher volumes between stores and wholesalers accepting along the way the risk of turnover and unsold merchandize, the stores are staying open for longer times in Ramadan increasing per hour salaries and overhead costs, in addition to the obvious explanation of ceasing the season to make reasonable profits that would allow them to stay the market. Consumers on the other hand are arguing that the increase in prices in such a manner is signalling nothing but the greed of the traders who want to reap profits out of their pockets, demanding the government to step in and stop this chaos.
The interesting thing is that it is not only the retail market that witnesses the supply and demand imbalance, beauty salons, barbershops, decoration services and taxis all witness increase in demand and consequently an increase in prices.
Taking a position in this argument is not as easy as it may seem, as a matter of fact, both parties do have valid arguments; the higher demand causes prices to increase and some traders do cease the opportunity in an unreasonable way. In a free market, you cannot expect the government to exert any force on the natural movement on the supply and demand curve.
Therefore, I tend to agree with analysts who explain this imbalance in the market through its social context; this imbalance is caused by nothing but the consumer behaviour. Transforming Eid into a consumerism season, with all its attributes of filling shopping malls and purchasing power, is the main reason of this frenzy market and prices hike.
In other words, for this craziness to stop, we need to change our behaviour, to review our understanding of the concept of Eid, to restore its true spirit that is based on simplicity and happiness. The malls are open all year long with almost the same merchandize; enjoy Eid with your kids, and buy something new; it just does not need to be few days before Eid and not necessarily a supply of the whole year instead of few days.