IF IT was the prices that lured Mumbaikars to Lamington Road to purchase laptops, computers and speakers, it’s also prices that have led to fewer footfalls in the area as more and more e-commerce sites offer deals on electronic items. Shopkeepers along the Lamington Road market near Grant Road rue that they were once on the right side of the price battle with other retailers and showrooms, but they’re now ceding ground to e-commerce.
For the over 200 shops along Lamington Road, major customers are now those looking for specialised technical tools that are not easily available online, or those making bulk orders. A small number are from a vanishing breed that likes to feel a product before purchasing it.
Back in the 1970s, the lanes branching out from Lamington Road, now officially renamed Dr Dadasaheb Bhadkamkar Marg, housed several shops selling radio spare parts. Hitesh Kothari of Kothari Radio Spares was a kid when his father, C C Kothari, started a store in one of these bylanes. “Those were times when people needed a licence to have a radio. There were three or four radio spare shops on this road, when not many places in the city had these shops. As people from across the city started coming here for purchasing the spares, other shops including those selling sarees and eatables were slowly bought over by electronics dealers,” says Kothari.
Over a period of time, in the 1990s, Lamington Road become the go-to place for people wanting to purchase spares for radio, television, audio equipment, VCRs and instruments including analog multi-meters used for repairing electronic goods. “Then Rajiv Gandhi became Prime Minister of the country and there was a demand for computers, so several shops sprung up selling computer spare parts,” Kothari says.
The area also became infamous for selling the “first copy”, unauthorised versions of a branded product. Kalpesh Jain, the owner of Mahavir Stores that has been here since the 1990s, says, “If you want to stay relevant in the market, you need to find out what is the in-thing at the moment. You have to keep up with the trend. Over the years, shops here have gone from selling VCRs, cassette players, Walkman, discman, to laptops, hard disks and pen drives.”
However, shopkeepers say keeping up with the trends is no longer enough. Asif Shaikh, who runs Om Sai Electronics, says, “These days customers come to our stores, look through several products and eventually fish out their phones and check the price on e-commerce sites. They show us how cheap it is online. We obviously have a higher rate for the product due to storage charges, and they then walk out and maybe purchase it online. Now the moment someone starts checking their mobile phones after checking out products at our store, we just tell them to leave and not waste our time.” Earlier, they would have up to 50 customers at their store daily, now it is down to five-ten customers.
So who still shops at Lamington Road? Zubair Shaikh came looking for a phone as he needed it urgently, and felt comfortable buying it only after looking at it closely. Reuben Mascarenhas, who along with his college friend was present at the market, said, “We need some technical items for our project in bulk and wanted some suggestions on what would be the best product. Hence we came here. If I am assembling a computer I will come here, if purchasing a mobile then definitely online.”