Spending eases up just before Christmas

Shoppers will hit the Boxing Day sales today but may have lost some of their zest for spending after a quieter-than-expected final countdown to Christmas.

Kiwis spent 4.1 per cent more in the first three weeks of December compared with last year, but retail payments network operator Paymark recorded a dip in pre-Christmas spending last week.

Chief executive Simon Tong says figures suggest many shoppers avoided a last-minute dash.

Wellington retailers appeared to fare worse than most in New Zealand, with spending after December 20 down 1.6 per cent.

But it was made up for in the November 30 to December 20 period, when shoppers in the capital spent $10.5 million more - especially on bubbly and carpets.

Paymark, which processes more than three-quarters of electronic transactions in retail, said last week that national spending through its network from November 30 to December 20 totalled just over $3.2 billion - almost 5 per cent more than last year.

Nationwide, people spent less on books, electronics and sporting gear, but more on clothing, eating out and whiteware.

Retailers Association chief executive John Albertson said it was hard to pinpoint why spending growth had sloped off, but it was still positive that it was tracking up 3.4 per cent year on year.

He expected a strong finish to the year for retailers, with growth sitting fairly stable at 3 to 3.5 per cent.

"It's a reasonable outcome. If you go back to August or September, a lot of the experts were predicting gloom and doom. But around that 3.4 per cent, there will be a lot of variability. Some retailers will have done more than that, others not as well."

There was also variability among regions.

Wellington's low spending probably reflected the public service shake-up, and how people in the sector were feeling about their jobs, Mr Albertson said.

Paymark said spending in Canterbury last week was up 8 per cent year on year - continuing the region's strong sales growth for the month. Spending was 2.1 per cent higher in Taranaki/Taupo and up 3.7 per cent in Hawke's Bay, year on year.

Mr Tong said the 1.9 per cent spending dropoff in Auckland and Northland, like the capital, could be because of people leaving town early for Christmas.

Greg Holland, owner of Greg Holland Jewellery in Newmarket in Auckland, noticed a slowdown in spending a few days before Christmas. That could be partly because people were travelling.

"A lot of schools finished last Thursday and I think a lot of people have chosen to get out of town. I've noticed Newmarket is not actually that busy this year in the last few days. My hunch is that foot traffic is down a bit."

Trading at his store was up year on year and had been steady throughout the year, he said.

Among other things, his firm made engagement rings and he knew some women would be in for some surprise proposals. Fairfax NZ

The Dominion Post