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Online shopping puts damper on downtown sales

Wednesday, December 25, 2013
Saira Mohammed, a cashier at RIK Bookstore on Queen Street, Port-of-Spain, wraps a present for Charles Ali, a newspaper vendor, which he bought for his 12-year-old daughter yesterday.

The bleak Christmas sales bemoaned by Port-of-Spain vendors have proven ubiquitous in the west, as many retail stores failed to meet their targets. When the T&T Guardian spoke with managers and clerks from a wide range of stores on Monday—from electronics to toys to clothing—the response across the board was unanimous: “People are not buying how they used to.”



Despite all experiencing the same woes, the managers, clerks and owners offered varying explanations for the unusually-slow Christmas season. Some blamed the economy, some blamed the crime situation and some even thought people were too busy saving for Carnival to take on the Christmas season. Another opinion that came up—in an interview with a manager of a clothing store in West Mall—was that people were now doing their shopping online.


So on Christmas Eve, the T&T Guardian returned to the streets of Port-of-Spain to find out from shoppers whether they spent less this Christmas and whether they were buying gifts online. Many, like Danielle Thomas, 27, said they were doing both. “Cost is rising for everything but your salary doesn’t. Now I would just give gifts to those who would miss the material things, like the kids. I also did some shopping online because it is cheaper for things I am buying in bulk.”


Amanda Henry, 34, agreed. “I am cutting back too, and yes, I am shopping online more. Today I just came into town to get a few last-minute things.” Ayanna Archie also agreed and shared her reason for avoiding Port-of-Spain in particular. “Port-of-Spain is becoming very difficult to shop. Parking has become a problem. I came into Port-of-Spain last week and I got wrecked. “So I prefer to go to the malls and spend my money. Today I only came here because there was no parking in West Mall.”


Then there were a few like Ryan Parampath, 26, who felt no difference this year. “I spend the same as normal this year,” he said. He did, however, do some of his shopping online. “I do last-minute things in stores, but from before that, I would shop online.” And for Kary Nero, Christmas was the same as ever. “This year is the same as all the others for me.”



Online sales soaring
Given the number of shoppers who said they now rely on online purchasing for some of their shopping, the T&T Guardian contacted Chioke AJ Pierre, the general manager of TrinCargo International—a company that deals in delivering online orders—to find how business is going for them in the Christmas season. He said sales had doubled since last year and the industry has grown.


“In Christmas we get shippings that are double and triple the norms. For the past four, five years, we have seen an increase in the industry every year. Despite the recessions and people supposedly not spending as much as they should, Christmas time always proves them wrong, especially in our industry.” He explained that many of the orders he deals with were high-end luxury goods.


“They prefer online because they feel it is safe and that what they are getting is original. They fear they are being ripped off down here with regard to authenticity and price.” He said the shipping industry has changed drastically over the past few years. Whereas before people were sending barrels of goods in, now he said they just prefer to send cash. The profits for his company are being made from imports for online shoppers. 


Asked if he felt as though his industry was contributing to the decline of sales in retail stores, he said that there were other factors that were discouraging people from going shopping. “I was trying to go in Port-of-Spain to buy something for myself, but I couldn’t get a park. Every car park I tried to go to was full. And I didn’t want to get wrecked. “I literally left Port-of-Spain and drove to West Mall. But I had problems to park in there as well,” he said.



Malls busy 
Heidi Alleng, the general manager at the Falls at West Mall, said the level of traffic in the mall was as high as ever. The mall launched its Christmas celebrations a little earlier this year, in November, and since then, she says, the mall has been packed every single weekend. Because of the heavy customer flow, she wasn’t sure what could be contributing to the reduced sales affecting some stores.


Asked her thoughts on Pierre’s comments, she said there was a misguided impression that buying online would yield better prices. “When people look online they assume the prices are comparable to what they see in a store, but haven’t considered that on top of the cost of the item in the United States, they also have to pay the cost of bringing it in. And in some of these cases you might find that the prices are quite comparable and that you can get it here.”


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