Businesses hopeful despite tepid Christmas sales
Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
Retailers are holding out hopes that the traditional Christmas shopping will improve within the coming days as they lament slow sales over the past few weeks.
Vendors in downtown Kingston as well as some merchants in Half-Way Tree, St Andrew, indicated that there was a slow build-up to the period with some saying they do not expect much more robust business in the few days left before the Christmas holidays.
President of the Small Business Association of Jamaica (SBAJ), Hugh Johnson, said marketing will be key to bring in shoppers, even as he conceded that there are "mixed feelings" among merchants in the organisation.
"The business sector is always hopeful that sales will pick up. Some people say they are seeing an improvement for the Christmas season, but there are others who are saying that things are tight," Johnson told the Financial Gleaner at an SBAJ luncheon in New Kingston on Wednesday.
"It is just how you market yourself and your products that will determine how well you do. But we know it's challenging times," Johnson said.
Jennifer Ford, a vendor at the Redemption Arcade at the corner of West Parade and West Queen Street in the heart of the capital city, said she has only spent $30,000 to stock up on goods for the season because, for the last few years, the Christmas period has not brought a windfall in sales.
"The sales are kind of picking up, but we don't have the amount of goods that we used to buy once," said Ford, adding that many persons simply do not have the capital to invest anymore.
"Christmas is not like first time. It's only a two-week Christmas now. We have to just buy what we know we are going to be able to sell. It's about four years now it turned into a two-week Christmas," she said, pointing to former years when shopping picked up from as far back as October.
"But there is nothing like that again. It's just a little quick buying down to the last part leading up to the day," she lamented.
Other vendors at the arcade echoed Ford's sentiments.
"Compared to last year, this year does not look bright. We only have next week; the other week is Christmas and we haven't started making any money yet," said a women and men's apparel vendor, who preferred to be identified only as Cecelia.
Proprietor of Di Trends, Venal Milligan, who has two shops located on Bargain Mall and York Plaza in St Andrew, said the season has turned out to be the worst he has seen since setting up shop in 2009.
Milligan said that while he bought new stock for the season, he was cautious as he has noted the impact of the economic downturn on the disposable income of his clientele.
"So far, it has been slow compared to what we saw last year and the previous year. People are not shopping as they used to," Milligan said.
He is, however, hopeful that sales will pick up as Jamaicans tap remittances from relatives abroad to do last-minute shopping.
With two other outlets in Mandeville, Manchester and Montego Bay, St James, Milligan said the cautious spending of customers has also been felt in these locations.
Supervisor of Xtras in Mall Plaza, St Andrew, Roxanne Bennett, said the seasonal spending "has not been the normal that we are used to and we were kind of expecting it to pick up already, but it has been very slow."
Xtras has stocked up for the period, she said, but has had to offer discounts to bring in shoppers.
"We have actually put on the sale right throughout the Christmas (season) because we have not seen any positive signs as yet," she said, adding that she remains hopeful for an uptick in sales as the season blossoms.
With shopping bags aplenty, shoppers typically create extra business for bus and taxi operators as well, but for one taxi operator "most of who you see travelling are sellers, not buyers."
The driver, who operates between downtown Kingston and Vineyard Town, eastern Kingston, said that with the closure of schools, commuters dwindle at this time of the year, and so far shoppers appear to be few and far between.