Christmas splurge hits Lunar New Year sales

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2009, 12:00am

Some retailers say strong consumption over Christmas and an earlier Lunar New Year are posing extra challenges to sales over the Chinese festival amid the economic downturn.

But shopping malls are more upbeat about retail sales in the coming weeks.

'Our sales value has plunged about 40 per cent recently compared to the few weeks before the Chinese New Year last year,' said Wong Hon-fai, director of dried seafood shop Lee Fung Hong.

He blamed the financial crisis for dampening buying sentiment, causing people to look for cheaper alternatives when purchasing Lunar New Year gifts and groceries.

'Dried seafoods are luxury goods,' Mr Wong said. 'We are seeing people buying lower-graded and less expensive products.'

Instead of dried seafood, Mr Wong said many people could have bought less costly food items such as noodle gift packs from the just-ended Hong Kong Brands and Products Expo.

The 23-day expo, which closed on January 4, attracted a record 2.16 million visitors and attained total sales of HK$270 million. Some visitors said they bagged bargains for the Lunar New Year at the fair.

Lunar New Year begins this year on January 26, only a month after Christmas.

Wong Wing-hoi, the owner of another dried seafood shop, Kien Shing Hong, said the weeks before the Chinese festival were usually the shop's busiest period of a year. However, the gloomier economy had seen two-thirds of his clients stay away.

'Even though we cut prices by 30 per cent, no one comes to makes purchases,' Mr Wong said. 'We used to have a turnover of HK$30,000 to HK$40,000 a day, but now it's about HK$1,500 to HK$2,000 per day. That's not even enough to pay the rent.'

Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king said a shorter gap between the two festivals was always a challenge to the retail industry, even in good years, because people who had spent a lot over Christmas would be hesitant to spend more. Ms Mak said the Brands and Products Expo and other fairs 'had absorbed quite a lot of retail purchases, which may affect Chinese New Year sales - especially food and confectionary'.

MTR Corporation chief shopping centre manager Candy Ng Chui-lok said she was confident that its malls would see sales values and traffic increase by an average of 10 per cent this Lunar New Year.

'[Hong Kong people] are not without money but it's just a confidence matter,' Ms Ng said. 'Many stay in town for the holiday, while the cold weather helps a lot in boosting the business of hot-pot restaurants and the sales of clothes.'