Optimism for retail season after tough year

Cruise ship passengers shop in the Octagon.PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
Cruise ship passengers shop in the Octagon.PHOTO: CHRISTINE O’CONNOR
There are 73 days left till Christmas.

More importantly, that leaves only 49 days to Black Friday, the new bellwether as to how the retail season will pan out.

Last year, Kiwis spent a combined $442 million over the Black Friday weekend.

That was more than 85% up on the $238.2 million spent the year before, says payment network provider Paymark.

Retail NZ chief executive Greg Harford said the Black Friday shopping idea - a US post-Thanksgiving Day concept - had become firmly entrenched in the New Zealand retail psyche.

Not to be outdone, the global online equivalent is three days later, on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year.

Mr Harford believes both will easily supersede last year's mark, particularly in the online space.

Retail NZ figures show that online retail sales across the board increased 16% last year to $4.4 billion.

Around a third of that expenditure was into foreign-based sites, Mr Harford said.

"We could easily, therefore, expect around a $400-$600 million increase this year."

He said while "bricks and mortar" sales showed only nominal growth of 2% last year, the overall expectation was that Black Friday sales would "easily beat" last year's mark.

Part of that is because it falls on November 29, which effectively "opens the gates" to what will be a busy month in the shops in the run to Christmas.

"Customers usually start seeing elements of Christmas festivities beginning to appear in shops now."

He acknowledged, however, that the retail market had "done it tough" over the past year.

"The sector as a whole will be hoping that the end of year is more positive, particularly on the back of the recent reduction in the cash rate."

He said while there was an obvious attraction towards online, it need not spell the end of New Zealand retailers.

"New Zealand shoppers should realise there are local online options outside of the major Alibaba-style sites.

"This both provides the convenience factor and ensures you are fully covered under the Fair Trading Act and Consumer Guarantees Act in the "unlikely event that something goes wrong".

But there is no doubt local retailers are still taking a hit.

Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan said it was important to support local Dunedin and Otago businesses in the run-up to Christmas.

"Shopping local provides the ability to try products or see demonstrations up close and personal, providing a better understanding of the differences and quality of products before purchasing."

The jury was still out on how the Dunedin retail environment would progress in the coming weeks, he said.

Shoppers were certainly not out in force, given the weather at present.

Dunedin's I Love Merino owner Colin Lim said while he had noticed the normal seasonal uptick in sales in the city, the "real proof" would come when the tourist season started in earnest.

"As a specialist retailer we are very much dependent on tourist numbers into the city, and that in turn is dependent on what kinds of tourists come off the cruise ships.

"We are optimistic, as we can see a real increase in numbers, though."

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