Slow start to season for retailers

By John Cousins

Careful choices, tighter budgets and the day that Christmas falls in the week has dictated gift buying trends in the lead-up to Christmas.

Most Tauranga downtown retailers report a slow start to Christmas shopping but this was not reflected by Paymark's electronic cash transactions for the Bay of Plenty during the last three weeks.

Paymark said transactions to December 20 were up 3.8 per cent compared with the same period last year, reaching $208.6 million.

The Bay lagged behind most of the country's other major regions which recorded growth of 6.4 per cent (Canterbury), 5.2 per cent (Auckland and the Waikato) and 4.6 per cent (Otago). It exceeded Wellington's growth in transactions of 3.3 per cent. Paymark processes 75 per cent of all electronic transactions in New Zealand.

Despite the figures downtown retailers say there has been a slow start due to people thinking they could cram their shopping into the three days between finishing work yesterday and Christmas on Tuesday.

Kim Farrant of Tilly & Tiffen gifts said customers were not spending quite as much as last year and were being really careful about what they bought.

Couples came in to do a recce and then one returned to buy the gift.

"They are doing their homework more this year."

Warren Baskett of Books A Plenty said business had been a little down but sales were now tracking at about the same as last year. "Go back four years, and the sales now look bloody awful."

Chris Montgomerie of Hot Ginger said business was patchy and the amount people spent had gone down quite markedly in the last year or two.

Bill Campbell of Fancy That said sales were slowly picking up and customers were spending $30 to $40 instead of $100. "We are not breaking any records."

Louise Jones of Trade Aid said it was definitely quieter than last year and she was noticing fewer people in the street. She believed part of the reason was the free all-day parking offered by shopping centres like Bayfair. Older people that needed to take their time shopping were especially worried about getting back to their cars in case they were fined. Another factor was the downturn in the kiwifruit industry caused by the Psa vine disease, she said.

Val Auld of Cabbages and Kings said the season was slowly building and similar to last year.

Lauren Bennett of Glassons had her fingers crossed that sales would pick up.

She partly blamed the impact of this week's uncomfortably humid weather and the rainy start to yesterday.

Bayfair Shopping Centre manager Steve Ellingford said bad weather was always good for them because of the free parking building. Trading was starting to ramp up, with 25,000 people through the doors on Thursday - up 2000 on last year - and 10,000 to midday yesterday.

Mr Ellingford expected a later start to the shopping rush because most people thought they had a lot of time left. "The feeling is reasonably positive."

- Bay of Plenty Times

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