Hong Kong retail group head sounds caution as January sales rise 16.8pc

Association chief says it is better to look to the end of February, including the Lunar New Year

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 5:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 March, 2014, 5:10am

Retail sales volume for January increased by 16.8 per cent over a year earlier but the Hong Kong Retail Management Association says it would be better to analyse January to February and the entire Lunar New Year.

"It looks quite good but actually it's not because it was Lunar New Year," association chairwoman Caroline Mak said, adding it might be as low as 10 per cent.

"January figures are really hard to analyse for Lunar New Year. If you combine January and February, there's a chance it could be low double-digits.

"We hope it will reach 10 per cent growth … our members are talking about high single-digits or low double-digits."

Local consumer spending normally peaks before the holiday. Lunar New Year fell on January 31 this year, versus February 10 last year.

If you rely on Lunar New Year, you end up chasing those numbers
Caroline Mak, HKRMA chief

Analysed by category in terms of value, footwear and accessories saw the highest rise of 23.6 per cent, followed by supermarket commodities at 20.17 per cent, and apparel 14.6 per cent.

Mak said there were no surprises because the top performing categories were products typically given as gifts during the Lunar New Year holiday.

The categories that did not do so well were electronics, which dropped 18.2 per cent, motor vehicles, which fell 13.7 per cent, while furniture and fixtures decreased 8.8 per cent.

While the anti-gifting drive implemented by the mainland administration has dampened sales somewhat, Mak said the threat of e-commerce has yet to become a major concern. "For the time being I haven't heard of a serious impact," she said.

If the figures for the entire Lunar New Year period are disappointing, Mak said it would be hard for retailers to make that up the rest of the year.

"Our experience is that if you rely on Lunar New Year heavily, you end up chasing those numbers for four to five months. April to June is a quieter period. If you have to wait until summer to try to catch up, then yes, there are some concerns," she said.

Mak also expressed worries about protests against mainland tourists, which saw a group hurl abuse at shoppers on Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui.

"We feel that Hong Kong is a free city. Everybody has their right for free expression but we hope that people don't act out in an ugly way," she said.

"When Hong Kong devised the independent traveller scheme to open up to tourists from mainland cities, nobody in Hong Kong raised their hand to object. Those tourists came under this scheme," Mak said.

"Hong Kong should resolve this conflict about infrastructure internally. We shouldn't target mainland consumers as if they have offended us."