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Retail’s extra ‘strain’ in Christmas run-up

• Merchants fret over goods clearing for festive sales

• Downtown disrupted by more events, road closures

• ‘Make or break’ more vital after ‘summer slowdown’ 

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian retailers say downtown closures, and a longer wait to clear key stock, are imposing extra “strain” on the “make or break” Christmas shopping season that has assumed greater importance this year.

Tara Morley, the Bahamas Federation of Retailers’ co-chair, told Tribune Business that most merchants are “hoping Christmas will be good” after many in the industry experienced “a summer season slowdown” attributed to the cost of living crisis, “astronomical” Bahamas Power & Light (BPL) bills and other factors.

With the retail sector squeezed on both sides by the ‘double whammy’ of reduced consumer demand and higher operating costs, she added that the “increased” number of road closures related to events staged in downtown Nassau this year had created extra disruption for the area’s merchants by limiting consumer access.

And, with the festive shopping season fast approaching, Ms Morley told this newspaper that “quite a number of merchants have reached out to me expressing concern” about the extra time required to import goods that fall under duty exemptions - the likes of clothing and shoes - due to a change in clearance processes.

Such inventory is now taking up to 14 days to clear and, given that Bahamian merchants have no control over the shipping industry or when overseas suppliers/manufacturers release their orders, several are now said to be fretting over whether stock will arrive in time for the Christmas shopping rush.

Besides causing supply chain management woes, Ms Morley said the extended time and associated uncertainty over when duty-exempt goods will be cleared, has also created cash flow challenges. These are worsened if suppliers ship goods prior to payment, with Bahamian merchants allowed 30 days to pay, as up to 14 days - almost half that period - is lost with no sales if product is awaiting Customs clearance.

The festive season is vital to the financial health and well-being of retailers worldwide, accounting for up to 40-50 percent of annual sales for some, and The Bahamas is little different. Summer’s sales “slowdown” is likely to make the traditional “make or break” December sales even more important in 2023.

“It’s been a slow year overall,” Ms Morley told Tribune Business. “I’m hoping, and a lot of people are hoping, that Christmas will be good but there was definitely a slowdown in the summer season for almost everyone I spoke to.

“It’s the same all over the world. Increasing costs for your day-to-day living, and less disposable income to spend on other items. With the world opening back up as well, I think people have been travelling to shop rather than focus their funds on shopping locally. I think there’s a number of contributing factors.”

Retailers, in common with all other Bahamian industries and households, were also confronted with “absolutely astronomical” BPL bills, and Ms Morley said: “It just seems to be one thing after another with additional costs.... It’s been a nightmare. It’s just not a burden that all Bahamians should be bearing.

“With regard to additional expenses, we’re feeling it not only from the consumer side with lack of discretionary spending but feeling it in actual expenses and the day-today operations of the business.” And reduced consumer purchasing power and soaring expenses have not been the only issues facing Bahamian retail.

Focusing on downtown Nassau specifically, where her business, Cole’s of Nassau, has an outlet on Parliament Street, Ms Morley said: “There’s also been an increase in the number of road closures, which is always disruptive to retail traffic, so I know that has been impacting businesses downtown.”

Arguing that “there’s got to be a way” to manage events staged in downtown Nassau, she added: “It greatly impacts every single business that operates there, and they often happen at very short notice. There has been a downtown stakeholders group which Senator Randy Rolle has principally taken charge of, and he’s been better at getting a line of communication on events when he has the details himself.

“There was an event this Friday that nobody seemed to have details about. I don’t understand how that happens. It’s the notification of businesses and other stakeholders that are impacted, but it’s maybe evaluating how many events are allowed to occur downtown every year because it causes a serious strain on downtown stakeholders.”

The Federation co-chair said the longer Customs border clearance process for duty-exempt products is also sparking merchant worries. “I know the other thing that has been impacting a lot of retailers is there has been a change to the clearance process, which is making it take longer to clear our goods and get them in our shops,” Ms Morley told Tribune Business.

“It’s on the goods that need an exemption, clothing and shoes. It has been putting a strain on clearing goods.” The border clearance time for such imports can take up to 14 days, or two weeks, and she added that this was especially disruptive for merchants on 30-day payment terms with their distributors.

“Sometimes suppliers ship without payment, and retailer have 30 days to pay,” Ms Morley explained. “If and when you have good sitting in Customs and being held up, it massively impacts your cash flow if, for 14 of those 30 days, they are sitting in limbo.” 

Clothing, shoes and other duty-exempt imports “happen to be popular for the Christmas season”, and she added: “A lot of retailers are expressing concern about whether they will be able to clear their goods in time for Christmas.

“We have no control over when suppliers ship. Stores have been proactive in communicating with suppliers to ship as early as possible, but it’s definitely created an additional strain on businesses in addition to BPL bills, which are astronomical. It’s just one thing after another.

“I understand why they have this process, and hopefully we’ll be able to meet with them to make it more expedited. For whatever reason, it seems to be taking a little longer to clear goods under the exemption. Sometimes they will clear it much faster than 14 days,” Ms Morley continued.

“But I have heard quite a number of retailers reach out to me expressing concern, particularly in the lead-up to the holiday season. Sometimes you get goods under the exemption in 72 hours, sometimes it takes two weeks. There’s no way of predicting.

“It’s just not an efficient process for managing your cash flow and managing your supply line. Hopefully we can get through the season OK, but that will be another potential impediment in retail this season: Whether we get the goods in on time.”

The Federation co-chair added: “Christmas is extremely important for retailers in making their numbers unless they are in categories that do not rely on festive sales. For consumer goods, it’s one of the top months of the year. December is make or break.

“Regionally, speaking to suppliers, other stores in the region experienced a similar slowdown over the summer months and have started to see a pick-up in November. Hopefully that translates to The Bahamas.”

Comments

birdiestrachan 5 months, 1 week ago

Neil as you know the shipping port can increase their fees if their profits are less than 10 percent that too increase the cost of living will you speak to that or is that not allowed

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ohdrap4 5 months, 1 week ago

The road closures are ridiculous. Glad I am not the only being disgusted.

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themessenger 5 months, 1 week ago

They think they have it tough now, just wait until they put up the bleachers and crowd control barriers for junkanoo which will take away the already limited amount of public parking available on Bay St. If I can't park, I can't shop.

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