Would December and January sales in sport, outdoor and lifestyle stores have been better had Cyril Ramaphosa became president of the country immediately after being elected ANC president? Unfortunately, the 77% retail respondents to the Sports Trader annual holiday sales survey who started the year with disappointing sales, will never know.
But, with the Rand strengthening R2.87 to R11.60/$ between November 2017 and his inauguration this week, it might very well have made a difference to consumer confidence around Christmas – especially since business confidence in January was the highest in three years.
Retailers in the industry who responded to our survey, are a bit more ambivalent: 52% feel positive about trading prospects in 2018 — but 41% are negative. The weak economy was the main reason given by the respondents who feel negative, but the biggest single group (36%) are positive that renewed consumer confidence will make 2018 a great retail year. For 8%, however, 2017 was such a bad year that things can just improve.
“2017 was a bit better than 2016, and I hope 2018 will be even better, says Mark Kruger of Slingervel. “But, I am still not sure that CR (Cyril Ramaphosa) will make a difference.”
Customers were not influenced by the ANC election at all, reported 67% of the respondents to our survey. “Sales in December are more affected by current economic conditions than political changes,” responded a retailer who wished to remain anonymous. “Our sales come from the man on the street and he/she can only spend what is in his pockets or what he can borrow…
“The change in politics will have a bigger effect later when the import prices are modified because of a stronger or weaker Rand. I am positive the Rand will remain stronger than it would be if the Zuma Camp had remained (he was right – ed), so imports and thus prices should remain constant and even drop a bit…that would be great!”
On the other hand, 20% reported that the election of the new ANC president influenced their customers positively. An equal number (10%) reported that they believe the renewed hope of economic revival inspired their customers to spend more in late December, as well as in January.
Sadly, the optimistic messages had not reached most of the consumers who did their January back-to-school and -work shopping at sport, outdoor and lifestyle retailers.
They experienced no sales growth — or a drop in sales turnover — in January 2018 compared to the previous year, reported 77% of the retail respondents.
This is not good news for sport retailers who rely on the back-to-school sales for a good start to the year.
About a third (34%) of the respondents said that their January turnover was about the same, but 43% reported a sales drop of 10-20%. There are, however, 24% of the respondents who experienced better sales in January this year than last year — 8% say their sales improved by more than 10%.
Interestingly, December sales were generally higher than in January. Nearly half (49%) of the respondents said their 2017 sales were higher than in 2016 — 8% reported more than 20% year-on-year sales growth — but, 46% said their sales were lower. For 5% sales remained the same.
This could, however, be considered a drop in sales. “We did similar turnover to 2017, but with inflation we should be looking to increase turnover annually,” says an anonymous respondent.
“But, we are still thankful for our current sales looking at the economy as a whole…the drought also has a big effect on especially the rural areas where we trade!” he added.
The weak economy is also blamed for the fact that few customers spent money on luxury or high-priced items in the run up to Christmas. Most (59%) respondents report that customers mainly bought mid-priced functional gifts, while 21% said that most of their customers bought entry level necessities. “People are spending less on Christmas presents and more on vacations and food,” Kruger believes.
About 13% of respondents, however, would agree with the respondent who commented “branded goods at a fair price is a constant seller.”
It took South Africans about 60 years to cotton on to the American Black Friday custom — and for some in the industry it is 60 years too soon. It was introduced here tentatively in 2015, grew in popularity in 2016, and became an established trend in 2017.
For many industry retailers Black Friday may just as well be a swear word, so strong are their feelings about this discount day.
The 28% who believe that Black Friday on 24 November had a negative impact on their Christmas sales, will probably agree with the retailer who commented “lower Christmas sales had nothing to do with the ANC shenanigans, but rather the hell that is Black Friday!”
And no, he did not participate by offering discount deals.
Several respondents agreed with Bazil Southall of Promens Menswear in Bloemfontein, who found that his customers did all their Christmas shopping during the discount days, and that his November trading was therefore better than in December, which was affected negatively.
Another retailer, who did not participate, found that “people hunted bargains, but bought stuff they did not need. There was real chaos in some stores.”
But, he will probably participate in 2018 to get rid of unwanted stock, he added.
Of the 30% retailers who felt positive about Black Friday, 22% said that they benefitted from participating because it helped them to get rid of old stock. The other 8% said that it attracted new customers to their stores.
For the biggest group of retailers who responded, however, Black Friday was a non-event — with 42% reporting that it had no impact on their December sales and 36% saying they did not participate.
Most of the respondents (44%) who did participate gave big discounts of more than 20%, while 28% said they gave 15-20% discounts and 20% offered less than that.