Amelia Wade is a court reporter for the New Zealand Herald

Retailers ready for bonanza

Spending up on last year as advertised festive season bargains pull in consumers.

Christmas shopping has started early at Westfield St Lukes in Auckland. Photo / Natalie Slade
Christmas shopping has started early at Westfield St Lukes in Auckland. Photo / Natalie Slade

Retailers are in a Christmas sale free-for-all with only 15 days left to the 25th.

New Zealanders have been spending more this year - November spending was up 4.6 per cent on last year, according to figures from Paymark, which processes about 75 per cent of all electronic transactions in New Zealand.

But the real rush is tipped to be still coming.

Homeware, beds, linen, toys, holidays, cars, groceries, bikes, electronics, outdoor furniture, CDs and DVDs have all been advertised as on sale in festive offers.

One furniture store is even touting that its Boxing Day sale "is on now".

New Zealand Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said this time of year was vital to retailers as it was when most had their largest volume of sales.

Mr Albertson said the national increase in spending this November compared with the same month last year was encouraging.

He predicted December to be up 3 to 4 per cent.

"We'd be very happy with that."

During festive sales, retailers needed to be sure they had the stock, bargains and the staff to cope.

"Consumers can be very stressed this time of year so it's vital to have the right amount of staff on to cope," Mr Albertson said.

"It looks like it's going to be areally great Christmas for consumers this year - there's lots of salesand bargains to make the most of."

And New Zealanders are taking advantage of the savings.

Paymark head of sales and marketing Paul Whiston said the increase in pre-Christmas spending had followed the patterns of recent years.

"Based on historic figures, we expect the real rush is yet to come," he said.

"Between 2007 and 2011 spending jumped an average of 27 per cent from November to December as Kiwis ramped up their card usage in anticipation of Christmas."

But it's not just retailers who have seen the benefits of New Zealanders opening their wallets.

As the festive season swings into gear, spending at shops selling alcohol (up 10 per cent) and cafes and restaurants (up 9.3 per cent) are among the other increases on last year.

This is an improvement on the weak annual growth rate in these sectors in recent months, according to Mr Whiston.

However, the sharp increase could be attributed in part to November 2012 having one more Friday than November 2011.

"It's great to see Kiwis getting into the Christmas spirit and spending across a diverse range of sectors," said Mr Whiston.

"We hope to see retailers reaping the benefits in the coming weeks."

Nationwide, during November, the number of card transactions was 5.1 per cent higher than it was a year ago, Mr Whiston said.

Debit card use (up 5.2 per cent) increased faster than credit card use (up 4.9 per cent) for the second month in a row.

It's the gift that counts, not the thought

While the organised among us will have bought, wrapped and tagged Christmas gifts, for those beginning to panic there is helpful scientific advice: don't agonise over picking the perfect present.

Psychologists have decided that "it's the thought that counts" is not true. It is the gift. So those agonising for an idea might as well ask the recipient what he or she wants.

Nick Epley, a lecturer in behavioural science at the University of Chicago, said: "The common wisdom is that the receiver values the amount of time you spent thinking about the gift, trying to get it right. This is a mistaken assumption, according to our experiments."

In a paper published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology last month, Epley contends that gift receivers do not care about how much thought and effort went into buying a gift; they primarily care whether they like it or not.

"Our definition of thoughtfulness is the amount of thought you expend to get a gift for someone that they will really like," he said.

"In our experiments we contrast that with simply getting the gift that someone puts at the top of their wish list. That's thoughtless because it didn't require much thought.

"If you give me a gift, I don't necessarily think about the amount of time you spent getting the gift. I think about the gift. Do I like the gift? If I like it, I like it equally whether it was chosen randomly or thoughtfully, according to our data.

"A lot of thought is not necessary - just listen carefully when they tell you what they want, write it down and go and get it," said Epley.

The scientists admit their somewhat unromantic analysis does not address the pleasure of giving.

"What is lost in this is that in a gift exchange it's not just the gift receiver who benefits - the gift giver gets a lot of pleasure," he said.

"It's fun to go out and think about a gift that is just right."

But is that being a little bit selfish?

"The happiness that comes out of that is not for the gift receiver," said Epley. "The person who benefits from putting thought into a gift is the one having the thoughts."

- Conal Urquhart, Observer

- NZ Herald

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