Christmas shopping kicks in a week late

By Keith Perry

It was a week later than usual but the Christmas shopping stampede started in earnest this weekend with shopping malls reporting record takings and a shortage of parking spaces.

Auckland's shopping arcade bosses put the late rush down to shoppers waiting for their Christmas pay packets before heading for the shops to stock up on groceries, wine and presents.

Managers said there was no evidence of people tightening the purse strings this year, with many stores forced to take on extra staff to cope with the volume of shoppers.

"Our carpark is full and we have had to create an extra 72 spaces on the grass," said Botany Town Centre marketing manager Georgina Pellett.

"So many families queued to have their children photographed with Santa this week that we had to order extra lollipops to avoid running out.

"In 10 days we went through 10,400 lollipops. That's a lot of children visiting Father Christmas."

She added: "The centre has been running at capacity for the past week. Gift voucher sales have really taken off and have shot up from 1000 a day to 20,000 a day."

The centre expects things to get even busier from Wednesday, when it starts opening until midnight.

Pellett said they had to restrict shoppers to having four presents wrapped to avoid over-burdening their staff who are wrapping from 9am to 10pm.

At St Lukes Westfield shopping centre it was a similar story.

Christmas present wrapper, Sonja Corbett, 19, said they were serving a customer every two minutes.

"There are three of us working flat out. It's been very busy," she said.

Foodtown employee Sam Collie said many shoppers had arrived in the morning yesterday in an effort to beat the queues but this had created a huge influx of customers.

"We are selling vast amounts of wine, a lot of pavlovas and ham. People are clearly doing their Christmas food shopping now," Collie said.

"I would say takings are 50 per cent up on normal levels. The average till takings are $300 per customer and we have had to take staff from other departments to cope with the workload.

"It's great news for students like me because it means there's so much work. I am grabbing all the extra hours I can and did 30 hours this week to earn money for my New Year's break."

And top department store Smith and Caughey's in Auckland's Queen St said any fears they had about a slowdown this year had been allayed in the past two days.

"Yesterday really took off and the past two days have been really busy," said retail manager Tony Shute.

"We are 5 per cent ahead of sales figures for last Christmas even though the customers started their Christmas shopping later this year.

"People seem to be spending a lot more on themselves this year and are treating each other to more personal items such as lingerie, cosmetics and men's clothes. Last year the emphasis was more in items for the home such as china.

"Sales of gourmet food products have been very good this year too."

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