As the world gets more connected and mobile; more people are traveling abroad just to shop. In line with this trend, shopping has also become a growing component of the travel experience for Bangladeshis. Certain shoppers are going beyond, leaving the country to buy clothes for special occasions and weddings. They are opting to buy basic household items and toiletries in their many frequent trips outside Bangladesh. Families of both the emerging middle class and the traditionally privileged are going to different countries to shop as the primary motivation for traveling. Top international shopping destinations include India, Bangkok, and Singapore. Frequent shopping tourists have segmented destinations for different products – Dubai for jewelry, China for furniture, Bangkok for clothing, etc.

Salsabeel Maryam Khan looks into some of the factors that are fuelling this trend.

Rising disposable income
Shopping internationally comes hand in hand with people having more money to spend. The income per person in Bangladesh has increased by a whopping 149.07% in 10 years. Increasing disposable income and an expanding middle class has led to the rise of consumerism. According to a global market research firm, new consumers are spending on a new and wide range of products and services. This range of products and services extend beyond what is available in Bangladesh. Consumers are then left with no other option but to get on a plane to spend their money.

A lack of options
Shipping to Bangladesh is difficult and options are limited in the few stores that stock international brands. Shoppers do not have go-to stores for luxury brands. Even brands which are made in Bangladesh, like Ralph Lauren, Zara, and Gap, do not have official outlets with export quality clothes.

Consumers are drawn to variety. Stores abroad restock more frequently, keeping up with the cycles of fashion seasons. People who can afford to shop internationally also want to maintain exclusivity. It is easier to choose exclusive products if there are plenty of upscale varieties or if they can get the fashion that reflects what is on the runway, in a timely manner.
For ethnic wear, be it bridal wear or shalwar kameezes, India is known to have more regional variety – shoppers can buy sarees of different styles, materials, and designs. Sarees from Banaras are completely distinct from South Indian sarees and shoppers want access to it all. Due to the visa difficulties, it is harder to access Pakistani designers in Dhaka. Thus interested folks make a stopover in Dubai where Pakistani clothes are widely available. They are then also able to match accessories and jewelry better in these shopping destinations.

Online service sites like Backpacker and many Facebook stores and sites like Zesh and Co. are trying to catch up and carter to this mid-luxury market. However, shopping for international brands and products online are in early stages and not widespread. Shopping online takes away from the experience of searching through the latest, the best and finding the perfect match.

Shopping as an experience
A frequent shopper and traveler to Singapore talk about his main reason for going abroad, “Shopping is an experience. In Dhaka, the options are limited and no one wants to be stuck in traffic to then go to the same, few places. Shopping abroad is bundled with the overall experience. You can eat, travel and choose from so many more options.” Another shopper mentions different factors that contribute to this experience, “The salespeople are better trained in stores abroad. They act as stylists, offer better customer services and have a higher chance of finding my size. Here the salespeople are either too pushy or too complacent.”

Trust
Locals perceive that brands bought in Bangladesh may not be as authentic. This is more prevalent for cosmetic products and perfumes. Distributors and stores do not take sufficient steps to ensure the authenticity of the products. “If I am going to put something on my face, it needs to be real. There are knock-offs everywhere, so I buy from reputed stores abroad where I trust the source,” says a young professional who just returned from a shopping trip from Bangkok.

Cheaper to buy abroad
It may seem counterintuitive but shopping internationally is a cost-cutting mechanism for many. Even as imported goods arrive at Dhali, Unimart and fill Pink City, it remains cheaper to buy abroad in many instances. This typically applies to those who would be going abroad anyway. Customers in the USA can go to outlet stores where fashion brands stock last season’s inventory at a huge discount. They also have a culture of big sales, especially around Christmas and Black Friday.

For example, buying clothes, especially in bulk, is cheaper in India. “When I am buying only one saree it’s fine, but when I have to buy 14 for my nieces wedding this November, the price difference becomes significant. It will be cheaper to fly to Kolkata, even after taking into account the price of airfare,” says a mother of three.

Buying and supporting local businesses
With Eid coming up, we will certainly see an influx of shoppers going abroad and this trend will continue to grow. In 2017, an estimated 150,000 shoppers went to India. Their spending ranged from BDT 80,000 to BDT 2,00,000. This amalgamated to spending upto Tk 200 crore in a couple of months, just in India.

As all this money is being diverted to sellers abroad, the question remains, what about local fashion designers and producers? Local designers must try to fill the gaps that consumers feel and consumers must recognize local efforts. It is imperative in order for the local economy to thrive and to keep hard earned money in the country.