The prospects of a lucrative shopping season are better than last year’s poor holiday period, but some businesses have taken pre-emptive measures, cutting prices early, to ensure they meet their targets. Many are relying on the Christmas season to compensate for losses accumulated throughout the year when business was bad thanks to domestic and regional developments which dealt a heavy blow to the country’s tourism sector.
“It’s a slow start but there are more people buying than last year,” said a salesman at a regional jeweleryshop, located in ABC Mall in the Beirut district of Ashrafieh.
“Christmas time is our best bet. It is when we sell the most,” he added.
Some businesses are optimistic given that the first two weeks of the holiday season have seemed bright compared to 2011, and are hoping for a profitable peak.
Aline Haddad, the owner of a local accessory store at the same mall, described the first week of the shopping period as “OK,” and said she relies mostly on her “VIP customers.”
“I offer them a 10 percent discount for the whole month,” Haddad added, as she organized her handmade bracelets and necklaces.
For the past two weekends, people have flooded the malls in Beirut and its suburbs searching for best buys, although many seem to be merely window-shopping, walking empty-handed.
“I just came with my children to check out the Christmas decorations,” said Dalia, a 32-year-old working mother, as she pushed her baby stroller in City Mall on Dora Highway.
“Between electricity and generator bills, food and daily expenses, I barely have enough to buy presents for my two children,” she added.
But City Mall’s management anticipates “good business” during this festive season, despite a decline in November sales.
“The past two weekends have been excellent in terms of buying, purchasing and circulation compared to the rest of the year,” Rony Aoun, the general manager of City Mall, one of Lebanon’s most popular shopping centers, said.
“Although up until November 2012, we saw a 20 to 25 percent drop in sales, we think that December can help us meet our sales target, which we failed to do this past year,” he said.
Aoun attributed his optimism to the one-week sale the mall had at the end of November on the occasion of Independence Day which gave businesses momentum for the holiday season.
Others, particularly clothing stores, have taken measures to avoid a potential slope in sales, offering unprecedented 30 to 40 percent discounts on their goods before the end of the year.
“We have never gone on sale before the Armenian Christmas on Jan. 6 but we will be going on sale this week with a 30 percent discount,” an employee at a women’s clothing shop said.
The shop, which has over 10 branches in Lebanon, has witnessed a huge decline in sales, even worse than 2011.
Overall, tourism-related businesses, along with other sectors such as real estate, reported a persistent decline this year after most Gulf Cooperation Council states issued travel advisories urging their citizens not to visit the country.
As a result, businesses have lost out on a profitable market.
This decline in tourism activity has been accompanied by soaring inflation figures, unmatched by wage hikes introduced to the private sector earlier this year and still pending to civil servants.
A recent Finance Ministry report said that more than half of Lebanese do not have any surplus from their monthly income, while some 63 percent face difficulties in providing for foodstuff and necessities.
Such deteriorating socioeconomic conditions come hand in hand with a lack of security and stability in a country where fears of the spillover from the Syrian crisis are growing.
“It is not so much a decline in the purchasing power of citizens,” Aoun said. The general atmosphere in the country also plays a big role in people’s desire to spend.
“Shopping is about mood and lifestyle, it is not about necessity, especially when it comes to malls, which provide alternative means of entertainment,” he said.
Several shop owners agreed with Aoun, with one saleswoman at a clothing shop in the newly opened Le Mall in Dbayyeh saying that “people are not comfortable enough to spend because they don’t feel safe.”
Almost everyone interviewed blamed the government and Lebanese leaders for what they described as “the economic crisis,” saying politicians’ disputes have exacerbated the already gloomy regional environment.
“We just want them to close their mouths and not interfere with other countries and we will be fine,” the owner of a leather goods store in ABC Dbayyeh said.