Praying for big spenders

By Kieran Nash, Leigh van der Stoep, André Hueber

As post-Christmas sales begin, retailers are desperate to hear the ring of registers. Photo / Dean Purcell
As post-Christmas sales begin, retailers are desperate to hear the ring of registers. Photo / Dean Purcell

Retailers will open their highly-polished glass doors this morning with a worried prayer on their lips, after some of the nation's leading retail chains struggled through a slow Christmas.

Two of the country's biggest bookstores, Whitcoulls and Borders, have almost entirely stopped restocking their shelves in the past five weeks.

And some of the biggest discounts in today's Boxing Day sales are being offered by stores that are in receivership and are trying to dispose of surplus stock, like Ponsonby's Nest homeware store and the Jean Jones clothing chain.

New Zealand consumer spending plummeted last summer, and retailers had hoped for a much more profitable Christmas this year.

Instead, spending in the lead-up to Christmas has only barely topped last year.

Simon Tong, the chief executive of Paymark which runs the country's Eftpos transactions, said gross spending looked to be up to $3.5b by Friday afternoon - but that was partly because retailers were slashing their margins with big discounts.

"If the sales prior to Christmas have already seen some of that money spent, we might see less for Boxing Day," he warned.

Dozens of retailers have taken out newspaper advertisements today offering discounts of up to 75 per cent. Among those are stores like Nest.

REDgroup Retail - which owns Whitcoulls, Borders and an Australian book chain - posted a $58 million loss in July.

Though the company denies cutting back on stock, publishing companies said they had received few, if any, orders over the past five weeks - normally the most profitable time of year for booksellers.

The shelves are still well-stocked with top titles such as Annabel Langbein's Free Range Cook (which has sold more than 120,000 copies in 10 weeks), Keith Richards' autobiography Life and Jeff Kinney's Diary Of A Wimpy Kid.

But stocks of other titles, which aren't on the bestsellers lists, were thinning dramatically or selling out entirely.

Macmillan Publishers managing director David Joel said publishers had been told there were no re-orders due to a "system issue".

"Their buying has clearly been severely restrained. Just like their financial accounts," he said.

Some publishers said even high-demand books had not been re-ordered.

One industry insider said: "It may well be that there are titles they won't have. They'll say 'we can't get that book'."

REDgroup managing director Peter Kalan denied any slowdown.

"We've bought a lot of books in 2010 and we're going to buy more in 2011," he promised. "We haven't had a halt in our purchasing. We placed purchase orders as recently as last week."

Random House managing director Karen Ferns said REDgroup was re-investing its money in titles and authors that were selling very fast, at the expense of less popular titles.

- Herald on Sunday

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