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Retailers Hope for Better Christmas

TILLS are not ringing as fast as retailer and departmental stores would want them to but they have not entirely lost heart yet.

Shop managers believe although sales are getting better, it is a bit too early to tell whether consumers will be shaking their wallets this season.

They reckon consumers could forgo some luxuries saying consumer spending will be influenced by whether disposable incomes will improve end of this month.

Barbours general manager Custon Mutoti said: “Things were a bit on the tight side this year. We are really prepared for this season and have a wide range of clothing lines. I am optimistic that sales will pick up. We should actually see an upsurge in sales but disposable incomes will be a challenge. But we have to wait for our customers to get paid.”

He said last year’s season was a “disaster” for the departmental store and retailers as a whole.

Even retail groups such as Ok Zimbabwe and Bon Marche last year did not run traditional promotions where they give away vehicles and other prizes to lucky customers.

And no one begrudged them with prices of goods changing by the day.

Mutoti says the company is now stocked to 2007 levels before President Robert Mugabe ordered businesses to halve prices of goods and introduced price-monitoring policy.

“This month we have seen sales going up but by end of month we will know for sure,” said Mutoti.

Other retailers such as Truworths and Topics are beginning to see consumer sales rising.

A shop manager says sales in the group’s city outlets rose by 12% this month and is optimistic the number will be looking better come month-end.

The improvement in sales could have something to do with the recently introduced zero deposits on credit.

The country’s largest clothing retailer, Edgars is also running promotions with credits.

A promotional text reads: “Open an Edgars account today and get 10% discount. Don’t miss out.”

By the end this month fake Santas — those potbellied guys in ugly red suits and long white beards said to be from the North Pole — will be back in business, a creation of smart store managers eager on setting impressionable kids on a collision course with their folks indifferent to shaking their wallets.

However, the fortunes of retailers will depend a lot on Finance minister Tendai Biti’s generosity when he announces his fiscal policy on December 3.

If Biti gives taxpayers some slack, this could see some millions going into shopping. And naturally the bigger departmental stores would be all smiles at such news.

With the emergence of smaller clothing stores all over town, particularly in the downtown, cash-squeezed Zimbabweans could spend the bulk of their money on cheaper imported products and goods.

The last quarter of the year particularly in December, is traditionally the most important time of the year for retailers, capable of making or breaking annual performances within a space of a few weeks.

Retailers have every reason to hope for a better Christmas this year after last year’s holiday brought no cheer for the sector as hyperinflation ravaged the economy with prices of goods changing fast daily.

Should the sales really beat expectations, this Christmas would see the sector make real earnings.

“Let’s wait and see,” said a shop manager.

Mutoti added: “Last year was a disaster. I strongly feel this is a different ball game. We are now fully stocked after the price controls of 2007. We are running a few promos and competitions and we are selling at every turn. Things are starting to happen, there is excitement. We have introduced a credit system. We are working on something that will also cater for our traditional customers (civil servants). But the last week of November will tell us everything.”

With that Mutoti hopes to exorcise the ghost of Christmas past. But that of Christmas future would be quite telling as well. Come December, Zimbabweans will know how generous Biti has been to taxpayers and whether they have funds to blow.


Chris Muronzi

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