Tameka Gordon, Business Reporter
The Christmas season, similar to that of the back-to-school period, presents extra opportunities for merchants to cash in on the additional spend of consumers, but for some merchants, there is no sign yet that the anticipated financial windfall will materialise.
The December shopping period is typically ushered in with numerous advertisements of discounted prices and giveaways to lure customers armed with Christmas bonuses and early salaries.
However, the deals for now seem limited.
"It's not looking so good right now, it's the first year that I can say it's really not looking so good at all," said Mala Mansukhani, managing director of Jewellery Collection.
"Normally, sales start picking up by the end of October with customers coming in to put items on layaway, but this has fallen off somewhat," said Mansukhani, noting that wedding rings seem to be the big seller for the store at present.
The store is having a Christmas promotion - a flat-screen TV giveaway, and "is hoping it will help improve sales".
While seven additional hands have been taken on, something the store traditionally does to assist the 21 permanent staff with the extra foot traffic, this is more so now being done merely in a bid to just be prepared should business pick up, rather than as a sure-fire solution to the expected crowded period.
For Vincent Brammer of the Kingston-based shoe store, Shoe Lot, "the period is dead".
"What we are looking for is improvement in sales but we haven't seen it. What we were looking for last year did not happen, and it's worse this year because it's now the first week in December and still we haven't seen any improvement," said Brammer.
"We don't know what later on will bring but we can't wait until Christmas Day to say things are better because right through year it has been like this. One or two days of sales cannot make up for lost revenue right through the year. I have to hope, but from how it looks now, I don't know."
The outlet is not offering any promotions for the period, Brammer said, noting the high cost associated with bringing in shipments through the ports.
"We have the usual stuff; we didn't bring in additional stock," he said. "Our customers have asked for what they normally do, and we have even had to reduce the prices on those because people don't have any money so we can't go too high with the prices. We just have to ride out the tides."
Should business pick up at the height of the season, additional staff will taken on to complement the four the company employs, he adds.
With increased remittances typically flowing at this time of year, the December shopping period carries the hopes of many merchants whose offerings are intricately tied to a buzzing party scene.
Grandeur, a boutique at Seventh Avenue Plaza, has been stocked up in anticipation of "more events on the party landscape".
"Last year was very soft compared to the year before. I'm hoping that this year will better, I have a niggling feeling it will be," said proprietor Tessi Johnson.
"We are not expressly having a sale but we will be having specials for our membership cardholders, because we realise that many persons do not have as much disposable income, so if we can offer some kind of deal it will be better for us and the consumers," said Johnson.
The store specialises in party clothes with "a lot" of sales dependent on the number of social events and parties.
"We have also reduced our price point so I'm going to stay positive and say that this year will be better," said Johnson.
New business slow
Furniture outlet ARD 2K is offering specials and has stocked up, though by Richard Hamilton's reckoning, "At this point in time, it doesn't look good."
"I haven't seen much new business but my old customers are still coming in," the proprietor said, noting "a tricky catch" to his line of business.
"Come January, I could sell like crazy still because my clientele may want to avoid the crowd," he said.
Still, Hamilton says the season for him is "a hundred times better" this year, having refocused his marketing efforts to tap into the Christmas spend.
Consumers, too, have sensed the pullback of merchants and the diminished deals on offer, and the absent Christmas atmosphere.
"I don't see any Christmas, even in Half-Way Tree," said shopper Gloria Simpson while browsing the malls at Constant Spring Road on Wednesday.
"I don't see any pepper lights, the stores don't have up any decorations, and I don't get the feeling that things are happening because it should be showing already," Simpson said.
Another window shopper who wished not to be named said: "In this economy, I don't think the store owners even have money to pay their light bills if they put up the pepper lights, let alone have promotions or give-aways for customers; this Christmas looks very dismal!"
A few teenagers offered similar sentiments, saying they have noted both the absence of the usual decorations and the bustling atmosphere on the shopping malls.
Shopper Neisha-Gaye Benjamin says some stores she frequents have shut down.