HONG KONG — Preliminary reports indicate retailers here experienced a significant drop in sales as pro-democracy demonstrators paralyzed the city last week during what should have been one of the busiest shopping weeks of the year.
The Hong Kong Retail Management Association released some initial results Monday. Caroline Mak, chairman of the association, said member companies expressed disappointment in retail sales results during Golden Week. The majority recorded a mid-double-digit drop in retail sales compared with the same period a year ago, Mak said.
Speaking to the media on a conference call, Mak said the drop in sales ranged from 15 percent to 50 percent or even worse. Stores located in the middle of the protests in the Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay areas, for instance, were severely affected. Watch and jewelry, fashion and accessories and catering retailers suffered the biggest sales declines.
Mak noted that this year’s Golden Week was also weighed down by the timing of the Cheung Yeung festival that fell on Thursday. There is usually a drop in retail sales during Cheung Yeung, as Chinese observe the holiday by sweeping the tombstones of their ancestors.
Depending on how long the protests go on for, the full negative impact should emerge in the coming months “as both local consumption sentiment and tourist spending would be affected,” Mak said. A drop in the number of Mainland Chinese tourists, for instance, would not only affect luxury spending in prime shopping districts, but would also put a dent in districts such as Shatin or Sheung Shui, where Mainland visitors do more shopping for everyday items such as toothpaste, shampoo and food.
Chow Tai Fook, which has 89 points of sale in Hong Kong, said the performance of some shops located in areas like Causeway Bay, Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok “was inevitably affected, particularly in the first few days of the protest.” The jeweler had to shift operating hours of 30 stores in affected areas to ensure the safety of staff and customers.
But overall, sales during Golden Week “aligned with market situation,” a spokeswoman said, adding that it was still too early to assess any impact on the quarter.
Lane Crawford also said store traffic took a hit. A Lane Crawford spokesman said “proximity to the demonstrations and congested traffic in the occupied areas of the city have generally affected store traffic in Hong Kong.” Despite this, Lane Crawford’s Tsim Sha Tsui store recorded double-digit growth thanks largely to some exceptional transactions from local VIP customers.
Despite the travel ban — the China National Tourism Administration last week told tour operators not to organize tour groups to Hong Kong — Lane Crawford said it did see a “surge of Mainland customers on Friday and over the weekend.” The majority were customers from second-tier cities who had booked their travel sometime in advance, the spokeswoman said.
The streets were clearer on Monday as the number of protesters in the streets dwindled. After nearly a week of peaceful demonstrations, tensions rose over the weekend and a number of fights broke out between student demonstrators and frustrated business owners and residents. Main thoroughfares are still cordoned off, but there were few protesters in some of these areas. There were only a handful sitting in the street in Causeway Bay on Monday afternoon and regular pedestrian traffic looked nearly back to normal.