Merchants in The City are reporting that the usual last-minute rush of Christmas shoppers has been virtually non-existent, as potential customers have opted to do more window-shopping than actual buying.
Many of them have blamed the unusual occurrence on a lack of job security linked to Government’s layoffs along with an equally unstable environment for private sector workers as well.
While the crowded streets and bumper-to-bumper traffic were clear indications that December 24 was no ordinary Monday, the lack of money being spent revealed that 2018 has not been the average Christmas Eve either.
From roadside vendors to department store managers, retailers were hopeful that in the days leading up to Christmas, business activity would have increased. But it seems that economic uncertainty has deterred even the most festive Christmas shoppers.
“Christmas isn’t like before. This Christmas was rough,” said one market vendor along Cheapside.
“At this time you would see people coming out shopping… [But] people cut back on spending. The spending power has been cut,” he said.
Taly Masri, Manager at Dallas Discount’s Swan Street branch, told Barbados TODAY sales were down 50 to 60 per cent when compared with last year’s holiday season.
“We’ve had some good days, I am not lying; but in general for the past two weeks, it has been slow, nothing to shout about. Last two days, we’ve been having some people coming in, we’ve been getting some sales, but it’s a lot slower than the year before.”
Things have been so bad, he said that the business had six fewer workers than it did last year at the same time.
“I think people are scared. I don’t want to get too much into the politics of things, because I don’t know much about it, but people are not spending like they used to. We used to get a lot of customers coming to spend their entire pay cheques or half their pay. Now you’re getting small sales here and there . . . we can definitely feel the pinch,” he said.
At popular store Woolworth, Managing Director Martin Bryan described the lack of commerce as a “sign of the times”.
“It is strictly economics. Thousands of people have lost their jobs . . . There’s a lot of uncertainty and it’s a fact that some people don’t have any work . . . they may have a little unemployment [benefit], but that is going to run out and they’re not too sure if they’re going to get a job. Those who do have jobs are not sure if they’re going to be on the breadline . . . so that is a huge factor for sure,” the businessman said frankly.
Bryan said that when the company opened its doors on Christmas Eve; shoppers were waiting on the outside to get in. Now, he too agreed that business had fallen well below expectations.
“There are a lot of people in town, but we are not having the lines and the mad rush that I honestly thought we were going to have, based on how Friday was shaping up. We’ve been steady all day, but we haven’t been frantic.
“Some Christmas Eves in the past, going back years now, you couldn’t walk down the aisles . . . but as you can see, some aisles are kind of empty. Sometimes its quite slow,” said Bryan.
Karen Watson, a Swan Street retailer, who sells a number of popular spices, including Christmas favourite sorrel, described business as “up and down”. After 2:30 pm on the eve of Christmas, she was still holding out hope that the situation would improve.
“I am just waiting still till the last lap, to see what is going on, because there will be a rush at the last lap and a demand for the spices,” she said.
At Cave Shepherd, Broad Street, the nation’s largest department store was busy. Store coordinator Mark Clarke reported that sales were picking up. But he acknowledged that that the company was trailing when compared with last year.
“I know there’s a lot of uncertainty where job security is concerned and obviously that would have been contributing to the sales in store.”
He said perfume, linen and children’s toys continued to be in demand and management at the 112-year-old department store remained hopeful that shopping would continue even after Christmas Day.