The Weekly Binge
Weekly bazaars offer a variety of goods at relatively cheaper prices. They attract all income groups and remain a popular shopping destination across Pakistan.
In a country like Pakistan where the rising prices of petrol and CNG force individuals to think twice before leaving their homes for shopping, weekly bazaars offer a variety of products at reasonable prices. A core reason behind the popularity of these bazaars is the convenience of finding an array of essential and non-essential commodities at one place. Furthermore, a weekly bazaar named after each day of the week is held in different localities across the city, providing affordable goods to an inflation-struck population, along with income for daily wage earners.
From fruits and vegetables to meat and seafood, local bazaars offer stacks of clothing, branded shoes, designer bags, textiles, rugs, carpets, books, scarfs and souvenirs at relatively cheap prices. What makes the shopping experience even more delightful is the extent to which one can exercise and polish one’s bargaining skills. Being able to purchase goods at half the price, most customers happily undergo the painstaking process of parking their cars in congested areas around the market and trudging around the bazaar, looking for deals and ignoring the heat and dust.
Unlike organized department stores and shopping malls, weekly bazaars are often a nuisance for the residents living in the area. Despite the known fact that these bazaars attract a vast number of customers, little or no effort is made to provide adequate parking facilities. Customers desper-
ately try to find parking spots near the bazaars, often blocking the roads and heavily disrupting traffic.
Keeping these drawbacks in mind, the bachat bazaar located in an affluent area of Karachi has recently undergone a drastic renovation. The new bachat bazaar in the Defense Housing Authority ( DHA) successfully replaced the old Sunday bazaar, which fell short of meeting the growing demands of its consumers. The new bazaar is nearly double in size as it occupies nearly 25.5 acres and shops are also covered with fiberglass tops, thus protecting shoppers from the heat and creating a cooler environment. Apart from the addition of a food court, playing area and toilets, two spacious and organized parking areas are provided within the vicinity.
However, not every change is for the better. Due to the lavish makeover of the bazaar, stall rents have increased. Stall owners pay a hefty amount of Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per month. This leads to a disturbing ripple effect as the sellers charge heavy amounts and refuse to bargain with customers. Moreover, regular customers are often disappointed when they realize that many of their favorite stalls have disappeared. Many stall owners were not able to pay the increased rent and, with commodities not available at reasonable rates, the true essence of weekly bazaars has been lost. The new and refined Sunday bazaar, has therefore lost its core purpose of serving the middle class and has transformed into yet another platform to accommodate those with money in their pockets.
It now seems that these weekly bazaars are an extended form of shopping malls, which are a common sight in the West while South Asian countries have become known for their outdoor bazaar culture. Whether it is the goods found in such places or simply the experience itself, outdoor bazaars attract foreign tourists, celebrities, and customers from across the social spectrum. Furthermore, while some department stores, such as Metro, require consumers to buy in bulk to benefit from concessional rates, weekly bazaars do not impose such a condition.
It is difficult to determine exactly which social class weekly bazaars cater to but it is safe to assume that the middle and lower-middle class are the ones that benefit the most. The rich prefer to shop in cool superstores according to their own convenience. Yet there are many among the elite who visit the Sunday bazaar in search of branded items, like bags and shoes and hope to buy them at competitive prices.
Despite all the shortcomings and complaints from consumers, the trend of weekly bazaars remains an integral part of Pakistani society. The trend of shopping at malls is spreading in the country but weekly bazaars still constitute a major part of the average Pakistani’s shopping activity.