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Retailers in fight for survival as monthly sales plunge again

Fighting for customers: Holiday sales are so far down on last year for many Hamilton retailers

Retailers look set to endure a tough Christmas as sales volume dropped by 10.8 percent during October and many traders sales are down on last year in the build up to the festive period.Retail sales fell to $84.1 million for October from the previous year, driven by a big decline reported by building materials, motor vehicle and apparel stores, according to the latest figures released by The Department of Statistics.And Kristi Grayston, chairman of the retail division of the Bermuda Chamber of Commerce, predicts a long hard winter ahead for stores with a number going to the wall if results don't pick up.She pointed to a number of worrying trends including the 29.8 percent plunge in revenue of building materials and hardware retailers compared to the same period in 2009 and a drop of 12.5 percent in consumer demand for apparel traders, despite offering similar sales and promotions to last year, citing one less shopping day for the month as the only silver lining.Equally, a 9.8 percent or $500,000 increase in overseas spending year-over-year amounting to a total of $5.6 million was further cause for concern, said Ms Grayston.“The fourth quarter is just crucial to retailers and it has already got off to a bad start,” she said. “It just seems to be in freefall.“I know times are tough for everybody and people are shopping less, which I can understand, but there has got to be some support of local retailers.“Why would anybody enter into retail with these numbers? A lot of people in retail are also probably looking at these figures and saying: ‘Do I want to continue?'”Ms Grayston said that December had proved to be a challenging month so far and the indication was that it was not about to get any better, with some retailers reporting similar figures to last year, but others below what was already 2009's relatively low levels.“We may not even need to wait until February to know how we have done because we might have an idea by the number of stores that close before then,” she said.Retail had seen a resurgence with the opening of Washington Mall Phase III this year and a number of shops opening in Queen Street in recent weeks, but as Ms Grayston pointed out the majority of them were moves or expansions of existing businesses, including All Wrapped Up, The Edge and the Gibbons Company, while she classed M3 Wireless, which is set to move into the new space, to be a service provider rather than a retailer.She said that a number of traders who had been planning to set up their businesses in Washington Mall III had found the landlord Washington Properties unwilling to reduce their rents and then had decided to walk away.Ms Grayston questioned whether it was a case of shoppers holding back on making purchases, but the fact that numbers had been down on the previous three years only served to mean that retailers were in for a tough long haul.“Entrepreneurs by their nature are optimistic and are doing what they do best in expanding, investing in their businesses and trying to be positive and hope that the numbers return to pre 2007 levels,” she said.“They have been adapting to a challenging environment and who knows if we have another two or three years of decline of a recovery in 2011.“It is also a question of how deep are your pockets and how long can you hold out?”According to the Retail Sales Index, the fall in building material sales was accounted for by a decline in building activity, while gross receipts of motor vehicles were 19.5 percent below last year's level, reflecting a decrease in the number of cars sold, however the quantity of motorcycles sold over the same period rose.Sales revenue for all other store types dropped nine percent during October 2010, with tourist related stores experiencing a fall of 21.7 percent - the largest in the sector, and pharmaceutical retailers recorded a decrease of 9.7 percent and gross receipts from furniture, appliance and electronics store slipped 5.5 percent. Retailers of boat and marine supplies, meanwhile, saw the only increase of 11.1 percent.Retail sales in food stores dropped 0.9 percent despite a 3.6 percent increase in the average price of food items bought, while liquor sales were down 5.4 percent on the previous year.Sales receipts for service stations were up one percent during the month, primarily due to a 2.5 percent rise in the price of gasoline.