Sales of electronics, books and accessories seem to be doing well this Christmas, while clothing and cosmetics appear to be suffering – at least in some locations, according to people in the retail trade.
Times of Malta has asked retailers, business organisations and shop workers for their insights into the festive shopping season. Their responses were a mixed bag.
Shopping centres seem to be in, and high streets appear to be out, with parking difficulties and lashing rain blamed for driving shoppers away from traditional shopping areas in Valletta and Sliema and into malls.
Meanwhile, despite most shop workers complaining about a lack of footfall and a decrease in spending, much of Malta’s business community insist sales went well, albeit with some disagreement among social partners.
The Chamber of SMEs told Times of Malta that many of their members were reporting encouraging results but that it depended on the sector.
“Clothing companies with non-branded items have reported some difficulty when facing competition from large international platforms,” said the chamber’s head of EU Affairs and Communications Fabian Demicoli.
“However, they’re still doing quite well so far and over the rest of this week they are expecting things to improve. Most are already seeing a huge improvement, with many reporting stronger sales than last year,” he said, adding electronics retailers seemed most confident.
But according to the retail sector of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, consumers are being more careful in their spending and splashing out less on non-essentials such as clothes, shoes and bags.
“The essential outlets, such as supermarkets, have registered a slight increase when compared to 2022. However, this is not the case for those selling non-essential products,” said a Malta Chamber spokesperson.
“While some are experiencing positive sales figures, others are reporting sales below those of last year,” she said.
Meanwhile, BigBon Group – which manages brands including Bershka and Pull&Bear – CEO Nick Spiteri Paris said the company’s results had improved as the weather conditions declined.
“We’ve seen strong results since the weather changed,” he said, explaining the warm temperatures in October had likely discouraged consumers from shopping for winter clothing.
Asked whether the rising cost of living had impacted sales, Spiteri Paris replied it had not: “Consumer confidence is there, and Christmas is proving to be very strong,” he said.
And with the company seeing strong results despite average spending levels remaining the same, he thinks this could be explained by Malta’s growing population which this year reached around 540,000.
“The average spend remains consistent, but the strong turnover indicates the growing size of the market,” he said.
Addressing the rising popularity of malls, Spiteri Paris confirmed BigBon Groups’ outlets in shopping centres had performed better to those on the high street, which he said were “underperforming” by comparison.
Malls and the cost of living
Despite assurances from social partners and business leaders, workers on the ground reported less encouraging results.
Shop assistants at one popular international clothing retailer in Valletta told Times of Malta footfall and average spend had been “much worse than last year.
“People are spending much less. They don’t seem to be buying as many presents. Last year, customers would spend around €200, now the same person might only buy a top for themselves,” one worker said.
Remarking the shop had seen fewer shoppers through its doors this year, they blamed the popularity of malls – which they said offered better parking facilities and protection from the seasonal rain – for the reduction in traffic.
Juan at clothing retailer Celio said he too had noticed customers were forking out less for gifts this year: “People are spending less these days and the weather is making an impact too – tourists were still buying swimwear up until a couple of weeks ago.”
The rising cost of living also appears to have hit luxury brands, and even those in busier areas, with one employee from Lacoste at Sliema’s The Point shopping mall reporting purchases had reduced in value for them too.
“People have less money to spend this year, so the average spend is down… last year the days flew by, but this year feels slower,” said Michela Galea.
Not all items appear to have been impacted by the rising costs, however, with Kylie at Accessorize on Valletta’s Republic Street and workers at Agenda Bookshop at The Point reporting footfall and spending similar to last year.
Restaurants spelling doom for Valletta?
Meanwhile, many Valletta workers blamed the lack of footfall in the area on the city’s increasing emphasis on restaurants and bars, with one shop worker remarking Malta’s capital had turned into a “tourist attraction.”
Shop assistants at one women’s boutique said they had worked in Valletta for 11 years and noticed a “big difference” in the number of people coming to shop.
“Every new place that opens is a café or a restaurant. We need a good brand to bring people here to Valletta. When you go abroad you go to a capital city to shop, but not here,” one said.
But the rising cost of living was also a factor, she conceded, adding that even customers for whom money used to be no problem were now checking prices before making a purchase.
Stressing customers had moved away from Valletta due to the city’s changing status as a nightlife and eatery destination, one cosmetics retailer worker stressed Valletta could do with more designer brands.
However, she stressed that rising prices were undoubtedly playing a part, remarking that a tub of cream for sale at her outlet, for example, had risen from €15 to €22.
“We’ve been told it’s due to freight costs – which apparently have tripled,” she said. “But it’s frustrating for us as well; we like the job and want the business to do well too… we’re just hoping it will be better for the rest of this week.”