Early start to festive splurge

CHRIS HYDE
Last updated 12:00 10/12/2013

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Wallets are open and bags are full as retail spending statistics show that Christmas crowds in Manawatu have started their festive frenzy early.

The Palmerston North region - which includes Horowhenua - had the second largest increase in November spending in New Zealand, according to figures released yesterday by Paymark.

Electronic card spending was up 9.7 per cent on the same time last year, from $132.4 million in November 2012 to $145.2m in November 2013. The increase is second only to Marlborough, which had an increase of 10.1 per cent.

The region is above Canterbury on 9.1 per cent and well above the national average increase of 6.8 per cent.

In Palmerston North, there was also a 7.4 per cent increase in the number of individual items purchased in November, from 2.5 million in 2012 to 2.7 million in 2013.

Paymark processes about 75 per cent of electronic transactions in New Zealand.

The Plaza manager Andrew Heaphy said there had been far more people in the mall than usual ahead of the Christmas rush.

The increase in spending was not surprising given the anecdotal evidence that storeowners were giving him.

"People just seem to be carrying more bags," Mr Heaphy said.

"Everyone in the stores that I have spoken to has been really happy with the way the busy season has started.

"Let's hope it's good signs.

"We're putting on a lot of staff to control it, the security and the people helping with parking, as a service to our customers, because we know this time of year it gets pretty stressful."

Downtown Shopping Centre manager Greg Key said there was a lot more optimism in the retail sector and this was beginning to translate into tangible results as Christmas approached.

Over on Broadway Ave, Stirling Sports owner Will Murrie said it had been a good year, with foot traffic staying steady, but purchases increasing.

Palmerston North City Council economic policy adviser Peter Crawford said the early boom in the region could be put down to positive vibes coming from farmers.

A good spring, with dairy farmers in a particularly strong financial position thanks to a record Fonterra payout, had pushed up the numbers, with Tararua sporting an unusually large year-on-year increase of 8.9 per cent, Mr Crawford said.

"It's an early Christmas present for shop owners, that's for sure, and it's really encouraging for the region's economy that agriculture is doing so well."

Paymark figures were becoming more and more reliable as a gauge of economic performance because electronic card use was beginning to flatten out, Mr Crawford said.

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Paymark spokesman Mark Spicer said the increase in spending showed momentum was building towards the Christmas countdown.

"The annual growth rate has picked up since mid-year and we know the level of spending activity will be much higher in December. Last year, for instance, December spending exceeded November by 16 per cent. So to already see both a step up in level of activity and a sustained higher growth rate is very encouraging."

The extra spend in the first seven days of December on food and liquor had already been noticeable this year, he said.

- Manawatu Standard

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