Merchants are holding out for a Christmas season that is merry and bright despite a more Scrooge or Grinch-like start to holiday shopping.
The Government’s retrenchment campaign has been a severe blow to over 1000 ex-public servants but also to the annual hustle and bustle of seasonal shopping. With the climax a week away, Bridgetown retailers are wishing for a mad Christmas rush this weekend.
The store coordinator of Cave Shepherd’s flagship store in The City, stressed that it was an extremely slow season in comparison to 2017. In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Mark Clarke revealed that sales were steadily declining even in the perfume and cosmetics departments which were usually those best performing during the holidays.
“Compared to last year I would say that sales would have declined and I think this is due to the uncertainty where job security is concerned because of the retrenchment process. People are more or less holding back and not spending like they usually do,” Clarke revealed.
“It is a bit soon to say how we will end. We are looking forward to the last five days and seeing how things will pick up.”
But the department store coordinator noted that there has been an increase in visitor spend on weekends due to the surge of cruise ships berthed here.
The manager of Woolworth, Martin Bryan, said that retailers found themselves in a ‘Catch 22’ this season, as the removal of the National Social Responsibility Levy (NSRL) led to consumer anticipation of a price ease that was later dampened by the Government’s restructuring programme, BERT.
“A lot of the stuff we imported without the NSRL you saw the drop in prices but on the same hand people went home so although there has been a drop in the prices on the shelf, there is less spend,” Martin pointed out.
The Woolworth manager blamed “a cloud of uncertainty” for a downturn in business. The firm has also been affected, employing fewer temporary workers for the holiday season.
“We are keeping a close eye on our expenses like our seasoned staff that we bring in we have had to moderate that based on the demand. Normally we would have hired a few more people this time of year . . . so it is just a sign of the times,” Martin said.
Former head of the Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry and owner of Abed’s retail store, Eddy Abed, told Barbados TODAY that his stores noticed an increase in foot traffic over the weekend, but that consumers were being extremely specific and shopping for best-value products.
“We are hoping there will be a rush coming close to Christmas but frankly retail stores need the sales for the last quarter of the year to build the fact that they carry through the other nine months of the year that are lean. The reality is that if stores don’t have a good Christmas season, it doesn’t all go well for the following year,” Abed’s indicated.
“We are going to have to do, what we need to do to make sure that we not only get rid of our inventory but we build the sales levels that we require to take us into the late part of the year.”
Given the island’s economic climate, Abed’s advised micro, small and medium-sized businesses to be “very cautious”. He suggested that e-commerce was a market that needed to be explored in Barbados as he disclosed that the fabric franchise was assessing the possibility of opening another branch.
While the stores in Bridgetown were betting on a busy weekend for a surge in sales, over at Sheraton, retailers shared that Christmas sales and preparations were moving steadily.
Claire Garnes, administration manager of Tropicana Jewellers Sheraton, said that business was “pretty good”. She disclosed that the Sheraton Mall branch was experiencing a consistent flow of customers with a majority of shoppers coming in the afternoons and evenings.
“We tend to cater for everybody in every price range so we tried to make sure that we brought in stock that would be suitable for everyone’s pockets,” Garnes responded when asked about consumer’s spending practices.
She stated that based on previous years, she expected the final week of Christmas to be a wild rush.
Speaking to Barbados TODAY Sherryce Marshall of Cloisters Bookstore said that thus far business was better than 2017. She attributed this to reasonable prices and special offers from the bookstore.
“We are seeing a rise from last year . . . even though people are complaining,” Marshall said.