Gift giving in Hong Kong down on calendar quirks

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 1:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 April, 2014, 6:55pm

Hong Kong retail sales fell 2.3 per cent year on year to HK$40.5 billion in February, the first fall in value since August 2009, the Census and Statistics Department said. The drop was attributed to an earlier than usual Lunar New Year holiday and Valentine's Day falling on the same day in the Western and Chinese calendars.

Combined sales for the first two months of the year rose 6.6 per cent year on year to HK$95 billion, well down on the 15.7 per cent rise in sales for the same months from 2012 to 2013.

"This year Chinese New Year was in the first week of February and most of the buying is done before then. We [also] had the two Valentine's Days together, so it meant people only had to buy one gift," said Annie Chan, executive director of consumer and brand research at market research company Ipsos.

Lunar New Year usually falls in-mid February but this year it started on January 31. Meanwhile, Chinese Valentine's Day, which falls on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month, synchronised with February 14, the Western version of the holiday.

Chan added that the anti-graft drive on the mainland was also having a lingering effect on sales.

"The government policy in China will also have an impact because they do not encourage gifting on luxury items. For Chinese New Year, it is the time for friends and business partners [to give gifts]," she said.

According to an Ipsos survey conducted last year, Lunar New Year is the most important holiday for gift-giving in Hong Kong, with 51 per cent of respondents indicating they would buy a present during that period. That was followed by Christmas with 41 per cent, Mother's Day with 37 per cent and the Mid-autumn Festival with 31 per cent.

Hong Kong Retail Management Association chairwoman Caroline Mak Sui-king said last month that if Lunar New Year sales were disappointing it would be hard for retailers to catch up since so much of their business relied on that peak shopping period.

Chan said this month would not produce especially strong growth, as typically "March is still a quiet month".

The association said yesterday a majority of member companies expected single-digit growth this month.