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Online festive sales shine

Cyberstreet moved comprehensively ahead of Main Street during the 2019 festive shopping season as sales remained strong worldwide but digital retailers reaped most of the gains.

Global festive sales were generally healthy over the past two months, a worldwide study of year-end shopping by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) shows, with online purchases in the lead.

The report consolidated feedback and observations from the HKTDC’s global offices regarding the retail sector to analyse the year-end sales performance in Hong Kong’s major export destinations, including both traditional and emerging markets. The report serves as a bellwether of consumer demand in specific markets and regional economies that can help local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) develop a more focused sales strategy for the coming year.

Global trend

Doris Fung
Hong Kong Trade Development Council Economist Doris Fung
HKTDC Economist Doris Fung said retail sales over the festive period showed online shopping was increasingly popular globally. “E-commerce performed particularly well over the past two months, starting from Single’s Day and Thanksgiving and running through Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas,” she said. “Year-end sales have been positive in most places, especially in the United States, Mainland China and some emerging markets, while sales in France and Japan have been relatively weak due to ongoing protests and the consumption tax hike respectively.”

Ms Fung said consumer electronics such as smartphones, Internet of Things (IoT) home appliances (audio and lighting systems and robot vacuums for example) and “affordable luxury” jewellery were among the most popular items across different markets. In Mainland China, consumers spent most on apparel, while demand for skincare products, cosmetics and other health and personal care items also grew rapidly. Meanwhile, game consoles (such as the Nintendo Switch) and related software remained popular in Japan.

Ms Fung advised Hong Kong traders to exercise caution over the prospects of a global economic downturn in 2020. “Economic growth is expected to slow down in major economies including the United States, Europe, the mainland and India. Hong Kong exporters are likely to be affected by softening global demand, so market and product diversification may help to stabilise their businesses.”

The HKTDC report found that the 11th edition of Singles’ Day (11 November) remained the biggest shopping fiesta of the year. Alibaba reported record sales of Rmb268.4 billion (US$38.4 billion), a 26% year on year rise. Mainland consumers are making greater use of credit products such as Ant Financial’s Huabei, and JD Finance’s Baitiao.

Thanksgiving rush

Jewellery sales were strong across all markets
Jewellery sales were strong across all markets

In the US weekend sales after Thanksgiving (28 November) remained one of the biggest shopping events in the country, providing a big boost to retail sales. Online sales on Cyber Monday (2 December) set a new record of US$9.4 billion, growing 19.7% year on year, according to Adobe Analytics, which tracks transactions from 80 of the biggest 100 US online retailers. Mastercard SpendingPulse reported that Christmas retail sales increased 3.4% year-on-year, a slower pace than the 5.1% growth recorded in 2018. As US consumers become more inclined to shop online, digital sales at Christmas grew 18% to hit a record high, accounting for 14.6% of overall sales. Amazon also reported a record number of online shoppers over the holiday season.

The United Kingdom was the biggest Black Friday (29 November) spender in Europe. Barclaycard, which processes one-third of spending in the UK, reported sales surged 16.5% during 2019 Black Friday promotions. Brexit and an end-of-year general election did not weaken the willingness of UK consumers to spend. A survey conducted by the Centre for Retail Research and VoucherCodes predicted UK shoppers would spend a record £1.4 billion (US$1.8 billion) online on Christmas Day. In Germany, Christmas consumer-electronics sales were expected to reach €8.9 billion (US$9.8 billion), with overall year-end sales increasing 3% over the past year. Online purchases in France exceeded €20 billion over Black Friday, Cyber Monday and Christmas, according to estimates by trade association Fevad. However, disturbances such as a nationwide strike and ongoing protests had an impact on consumers’ willingness to spend.

In Japan the consumption tax rise from 8% to 10% on 1 October 2019 drove a 17.5% year-on-year plunged in department store sales in October and 6% drop in November, according to the Japan Department Stores Association. The relatively warm weather also hit sales of winter clothing.

Emerging markets strong

In emerging markets overall festive sales were strong. The Association of Internet Trade Companies said Russian shoppers spent US$350 million online on Black Friday, a 30% jump from the previous year. In Hungary an improving economy and healthy labour market encouraged shoppers to spend more. Retail sales were expected to reach US$4.1 billion over the holiday season. By the same token, Czechs spent US$2.3 billion online in the run-up to Christmas.

Retail sales also grew steadily in Latin America. In Brazil, retail sales climbed 10.5% to US$900 million on Black Friday, while Christmas sales were expected to surge 9.5% over the previous year. In Mexico, retail sales during Buen Fin, a four-day shopping event similar to Black Friday, were expected to reach US$6.1 billion, growing 5% from 2018.

Related link
Christmas sales roundup

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