BUSINESS was booming in Shetland shops in the run-up to Christmas this year, with little sign of belt-tightening in the face of the credit crunch.
People were queueing outside Lerwick’s Globe butchers before it opened at 8am on the last few days before Christmas, and proprietor Keith Moffat said he was very satisfied with the way the festive season had gone.
He said: “It was just exactly the same as ever. The day before Christmas Eve was the busiest, it was solid from 8am from 5.30pm. There was no let-up and it was no different from last year. We all needed a few days off after Christmas.”
Nor did customers appear to be buying cheaper cuts of meat. Fresh turkeys, pheasant and venison from the Royal Balmoral estate were all in demand.
The Camera Centre also experienced brisk business, and, as at the Globe, last Tuesday had been the shop’s busiest day. Business proprietor Cecil Hughson said the average spend was around £100 on the most popular models of digital cameras and mobile phones. He said: “It was exactly the same as last year – no-one was buying cheap models.”
One surprise at the end of a busy season, he said, was the three-fold increase in sales of digital SLR cameras which cost around £300. “People are buying them as gifts to themselves.”
Just along the road, jeweller J G Rae also reported being very busy just before Christmas, with customers spending as much as usual. “Everyone that came in bought something.”
It was business as usual too at Westside Pine. Owner Janet Davidge said that although October figures had been slightly down on last year, November had been slightly up and the run-up to Christmas was “as busy as ever”.
Mrs Davidge said: “There was more talk about the price of things but people were spending the same.” The shop’s sale, which started last Saturday when many town shops were still closed, attracted “loads of people”, she said. “It was well worth opening.”
The credit crunch did not appear to have affected shoppers at Bolt’s Electrical or Smith & Harper either. Malcolm Sutherland said both shops had been “very busy” prior to Christmas with “not many signs of the credit crunch – there were plenty of customers, busy tills and the figures were good”.
Specialist food and health store Scoop also had a successful Christmas season, with staff reporting sales to be as good as previous years and to be “very happy” with the amount of business.
In the food sector sales were fast and furious, with shoppers stocking up for the holiday period. A spokeswoman for the Scottish Co-operative said: “Sales at our Lerwick store have been buoyant over the festive period, despite the atrocious weather just before Christmas.
“Several late boats had an effect on fresh food supplies, and this resulted in some panic buying. However Tuesday 23rd December was a record day for the store, with sales way above expectations.”
The Co-op’s store in Brae also saw crowds of shoppers. The spokeswoman said: “Sales at our Brae store were similarly strong with the Tuesday and Wednesday being particularly busy. All in all the tills were ringing merrily in Brae.”
Tesco too saw customers keen to spend, spend, spend. Celebrating the store’s first Christmas in the isles, manager Paul Clelland (Continued on page two) (Continued from front page) said: “We were 20 per cent ahead of our target over the past two weeks, a fantastic festive period for us.”
Mr Clelland said the store had had a strong three days prior to Christmas, with the whole week busier than their opening week. This week has been busy too, with Monday’s takings being more than 25 per cent above target and yesterday the store was “going bonkers”, with all 13 tills working, plus a mobile till in the lobby and a desk till.
He said: “We’ve realised since coming here how affluent Shetland is, the average spend is very high.”
In the South Mainland the same theme prevailed, with Mainland’s shop being “very busy” in the run-up to Christmas.
The picture of unbridled spending in Shetland contrasts with that on the mainland, where reports of store closures and fears over job cuts and falls in property prices have led to shoppers being cautious.
The loss of iconic store Woolworths and familiar names such as MFI (and the possibility of more to come) has created uncertainty, with shops starting their sales before Christmas in order to attract customers.
In general this has been a poor Christmas for the retail industry, which employs three million across the UK (more than manufacturing), according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC).
Director General Stephen Robertson said: “We’ll see the full December figures in a few weeks, but they won’t be pretty. Despite a last minute surge, it’s becoming clear that overall this has been a poor Christmas for retailers, as struggling customers cut back and traded down.
“Few retailers have not been hit by the slowdown but some harder than others. Some online retail operations have seen strong growth; food sales will have outperformed non-food – though all customers bought more carefully with ‘value’ the watchword.
“Discounts and promotions on a scale unprecedented for the run-up to Christmas, combined with weak sales, have put margins under severe pressure. All retailers are looking to sharpen their performance to make sure every part of the business can meet changing customer needs as efficiently as possible.”
In Scotland November’s like-for-like decline was the worst performance since August 2000 as the banking crisis, weak consumer confidence and the squeeze on household budgets hit spending.
Food sales showed slower growth and non-food sales recorded their largest decline since 1999. Homewares, clothing and footwear all fell sharply, despite widespread discounts.
Meanwhile, lest anyone be worried that they won’t get their Easter Eggs in time, the Co-op is already stocking them.