Warkworth retailers say that online shopping and the sway of the Albany mega-shopping mall remain the biggest challenges to their businesses at Christmas time.
Most small businesses in Warkworth report that leading up to Christmas their turnover increases by around 25 to 50 per cent on the rest of the year.
They could expect an even better bump in spending this year. Figures released by Statistics New Zealand last week show retail spending for the quarter to the end of September has increased nationally by about $1billion (to $18.2b), compared to the same quarter last year.
But, Anthony Roberts of Tackle and Outdoor, says online shopping continues to take a bite out of retailers’ profits, despite a lack of certainty over the quality of products bought online.
“Online shopping is a big problem,” he says. “People burn their fingers all the time because the expectation doesn’t meet reality, and then they come in and ask for advice. It’s worthwhile to buy from a physical retailer just for the after service. And, if people look online and then come into a shop and ask for a better price, most retailers would talk about it.”
Matt Henderson, owner of Warkworth Menswear, points out that his prices are the same as online.
“At least here you can have a conversation and try stuff on, and feel the material,” he says.
Albany shopping mall also came up several times with local business owners, but there is a sense that residents are slowly realising it is better to shop local.
Rick Urban, of Hand and Heart Art Gallery, says people often think they can get a unique gift from Albany because of the diversity of stores, but actually the goods there are much the same as any shopping mall.
“Here, you can get personal advice. I ask about the taste of the recipient and make recommendations,” he says. “Malls are also incredibly crowded at Christmas, but in Warkworth you can get your shopping done in your lunch break. It’s more relaxed, especially for last minute buying.”
Retailers point out that by shopping locally and keeping money in the town, customers are helping to keep the shops open and the community alive.
“Local businesses support the schools and local events like parades. And, the more people who shop in town, the more new stores might open,” Matt Henderson says.
Caitlin Begbie, who recently opened Smiths Shoes in Warkworth, says the town has relatively few competitors and her strategy has been to bring in goods not stocked elsewhere in the town.