Golu shops struggle against the charm of online shopping

Art & Culture Business City Covid Diary

Shops that can’t deliver find their sales falling

After the pandemic broke out, popular “golu” shops in Bengaluru are facing stiff competition from those that can arrange online delivery.

Golu is a tradition in South India to display different dolls on uneven number of cascading steps during Navaratri. During ‘Gommbe Habba’, sales skyrocket, with people looking to update their doll collections. It is a cultural norm to add at least one new doll every year.

However, with the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, sales of these dolls have hit rough patches for some.

Geetha, owner of N.L. Dolls, Jayanagar, informed The Observer: “The sales have fallen at least 40-50 percent for us since Covid. Earlier, people used to stroll into shops, at least window-shop, and then buying some. But due to social distancing and lockdowns, that wasn’t possible. At least this year it is a little better…. ” Customers visit shops only if they want to buy dolls.

 “Customers keep calling us and ask us if we can video-call and show them the dolls and if we can Dunzo them to their homes. But it is costly for us to do such things for a few customers,” she added.

The demand remains the same, but lack of online accessibility cause issues for customers to buy from some shops.

However, sales aren’t gloomy for all golu shops.

L. Krishnamurthy, co-owner of N.H. Dolls, Basavanagudi, has had good business over the past couple years, even during the pandemic. “People have somehow found a new interest in buying dolls and displaying them. Sales had dipped a couple years ago; but since then it has only been growing. I have been doing this for 35 years now, and business has been as good as ever,” Krishnamurthy commented.

Asked about sales via online methods, he said: “Yes! We have had a lot of those recently. It is convenient for some of our customers, especially if they live outside. I have even shipped some pieces to Australia and the USA. They video-call us, and choose what they want. They pay for the courier. And we ship it to them.”

Prithi Shankar, a software architect, said:“I would prefer buying it from craftsmen directly because I would want to see the face detailing of the dolls. But the one I got online was also directly from a craftsman. I liked the way it was packed and shipped.”.

Hemant Kumar, owner of Dasara Bombe Mane, Basavanagudi, however prefers to not ship his pieces. “We do have customers that want them shipped, but it is preferable not to. We only ship when it is necessary.” He has had customers who wanted to buy dolls for themselves and send some to their relatives living in other states and cities. “So we usually pack and parcel such pieces in these inter-state buses. I have even sent some to places like the UK.”

Kumar added: “But golu dolls aren’t things you buy online. You should come visit the shops, see what pieces you need according to the concept you’re trying to build. When you buy online, the dolls might look good in the photo, but their look and features might not be attractive when they get delivered..”

Rohith Aras, an architect, prefers to buy dolls from shops. But he goes online when he is looking for vintage pieces. “I randomly buy one or two pieces every now and then; I don’t wait until Navaratri to buy. But it is mostly physically bought. I have some vintage pieces inspired by Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings. These I could find only online. N.H. Dolls in Gandhi Bazaar is my regular store.”

Asked why he prefers to buy the dolls in shops, he said: “When you buy online, you see one set, you like it and buy it. But when you go to the store, you see so many options…in place of one, you end up buying five.”

The situation is, however, grim for the golu manufacturers.

Nithyapathi, owner of Arts and Handicrafts, a golu doll manufacturer in Chennai, said sales were affected heavily during the lockdown. “Navaratri is a festival where you visit homes and see their displays of golu, and explain to kids about our traditions using those dolls. But in the pandemic we couldn’t do that. So people didn’t buy much either. With lockdown restrictions, we couldn’t ship our dolls properly to other places. Retail shops have their stocks, which is why their sales might not have affected. This year is better.”

Marpachi Dolls

Golu dolls are made mostly in Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, and then shipped to other parts of the country. Some wooden varieties come from Channapatna. According to Hemant, the building blocks of golu displays are the wooden ‘marpachi’ dolls. These dolls are often gifted to new wed brides.

shristi.a@iijnm.org

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