A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

Inside Money: Are we being served while open all hours?

John Inman and Trevor Bannister in a scene from television programme - Are You Being Served? Photo / Supplied
John Inman and Trevor Bannister in a scene from television programme - Are You Being Served? Photo / Supplied

I can name only two shopping-themed light entertainment TV shows, both British and of an era: the camp classic Are You Being Served? and Ronnie Barker's swan-song Open all Hours.

Maybe I don't watch enough television or perhaps it's just that the retail environment doesn't lend itself to viewing pleasure. It could also be we see more than enough shops in our daily experience (but hardly any brutal murders) that televised dramatisation is superfluous.

The steady expansion of shopping hours has left New Zealanders with very few days in the non-commercial zone. Only three-and-a-half days remain sort of sacrosanct, as the Department of Labour explains.

Yet retailers want even less shopping down-time, with the perennial assault on Easter Sunday restrictions reaching new dimensions this year.

Retailers are undeniably having a tough time. As this recent report from the New Zealand Retailer's Association shows, margins have come under extreme pressure.

"Across the past decade we have seen the margin available in the sector shrink. From 6.3 per cent in 2003 we are now down below 3 per cent," the NZRA report says.

Consumers have sobered up considerably over the last few years "and, we believe, changed forever", the report notes, citing the following evidence:

- The consumer has lost his/her appetite for debt and is now living much more within their means. There has been a reduction in credit card debt and hire purchase debt (and fewer finance companies to borrow from);

- The consumers have been enticed to improve their savings activity - KiwiSaver;

- The consumer is a little unsure of the future and where everything is heading. Will I need some cover for a rainy day?

"All of this has resulted in a much more risk averse consumer with better managed spending and savings habits," the NZRA says. "They have re-balanced their household balance sheet and in the foreseeable future we will have a more restrained consumer."

But more shopping hours aren't the solution. In fact, less shopping hours could even lift retailers margins. If the shopping frenzy I witnessed after 1pm on ANZAC Day is any guide (and you can see it before and after any of the three-and-a-half shop-free days), rarity creates demand - so let's have more of it.

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A personal finance columnist for the NZ Herald

David is a freelance journalist who has covered the financial services business on both sides of the Tasman for over 15 years. He is the editor of industry website Investment News. David has edited magazines and websites for the financial advice, investment and superannuation industries.

Read more by David Chaplin

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