Not such a merry Xmas for retailers

PHOTO: Not such a merry Xmas for retailers
Last-minute shoppers on Dec 22 still hunting for that perfect gift as Christmas loomed. Even so, feedback from retailers in Orchard as well as suburban malls indicates growth in sales was weaker than levels reported last year.

THE tills rang for retailers over the Christmas season, but not everyone had cause to rejoice.

A survey of 30 brands and three department stores in the Orchard area showed that sales grew by a conservative 5 per cent this month compared with levels achieved in the corresponding period last year.

In contrast, festive shopping last year grew 10 per cent over levels seen the year before. Performance varied across the board as well, said Mr Steven Goh, the executive director of the Orchard Road Business Association (Orba), which conducted the survey.

"Some brands did better than others, but the growth is within our expectations," he noted.

The survey covered popular brands that included Topshop and Adidas, but Mr Goh declined to give a performance breakdown for individual brands.

Those that saw slim pickings included the Jay Gee Melwani Group, whose takings this month for its fashion brands - which include T.M. Lewin, Levi's, Dockers and New Look - across more than 100 outlets were 10 per cent lower than they had been last year.

This was despite discounts of more than 20 per cent at some of its outlets for three days from Christmas Eve.

Group managing director R. Dhinakaran said the introduction of new rivals such as Abercrombie & Fitch and H&M had dampened sales for the company.

It was a similar story at heartland malls, where some retailers said business fell by as much as 30 per cent from last year's levels.

Ms Fanny Chong, the store manager at m)phosis in Junction 8, said that despite a storewide sale with discounts of up to 30 per cent, business for the season shrank by about 30 per cent.

"Customers told me that they're turning more to online shopping," she added.

Those who saw some growth in sales this year said the numbers were nothing to shout about.

At IT chain EpiCentre, business grew 10 per cent this month over levels reported in the corresponding period last year - slightly lower than the 15 per cent seen in 2011.

Chief executive Jimmy Fong said the arrival of new stock for the latest Apple gadgets, such as the iPad Mini and iPhone 5, had helped to boost customer traffic at its 10 outlets.

Mr Danny Yeo, the group managing director of property consultancy Knight Frank, said feedback from retailers in Orchard Road and suburban malls is that year-on-year growth was weaker this month than it had been in December last year.

He pointed out that many Singaporeans also travel out of the country during this time of year.

Orba's Mr Goh said another reason sales had suffered was that even though the retail pie had grown bigger, there were more players taking a slice.

Housewife Low Wai Thin, 28, went to Bangkok over the Christmas weekend and did most of her year-end shopping there.

"Things are cheaper in Bangkok than in Singapore," she said.

To bolster or salvage their bottom lines, most shops are holding post-Christmas sales and offering deep discounts.

For example, fashion boutique Calvin Klein Jeans is giving 40 per cent off, while brands Gap and Mango are slashing prices by up to 70 per cent.

Orba's Mr Goh said that with Chinese New Year falling on Feb 10 next year and Valentine's Day on Feb 14, buying momentum among consumers should hold until the end of February.

He added: "After that, business will dip in March and April until the Great Singapore Sale in May. This is the typical cycle."