Hong Kong Holiday Spending Shows the Shift to Online Retailers

Hong Kong Holiday Spending Shows the Shift to Online Retailers

Economic growth should continue its momentum in 2019, albeit at a slower rate, while the transition from bricks-and-mortar to online retailing will continue to gather pace, according to a worldwide study of year-end sales released today by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC).

The report collected retail figures to analyse the year-end sales performance in Hong Kong’s major exports markets, including both traditional and emerging markets. The survey results serve as a barometer of the economic health of individual countries and trading blocs and can help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to develop a more focused sales strategy for the coming year.

HKTDC Deputy Director of Research Billy Wong said the retail sectors across different markets showed a mixed performance over the festive period, with the United States and various emerging markets showing robust growth, while certain traditional markets saw growth at a slower pace.

“Holiday sales in the US increased by 5.1% to more than US$850 billion, registering the strongest growth in six years.” Mr Wong said. “Overall consumer spending in Mexico during the shopping peak increased strongly by 8% to US$5 billion, while Germany’s Christmas sales are expected to increase by 2% to hit a record-high of US$114 billion, although the growth has slowed from 3.8% over the same period in 2017. The retail performance of France and the United Kingdom remained gloomy over the holiday, overshadowed by anti-government protests and Brexit negotiations, respectively.”

Mr Wong explained that the transition from traditional bricks-and-mortar outlets to online retailing increased its pace over the course of 2018. “The practice of BOPIS – Buy Online, Pick Up In-Store – is gaining popularity and we may see the retail industry transition more towards the O2O, online-to-offline, model,” he said.

The study showed that consumer electronics such as TVs, tablets and smart home devices were among the most popular items across different markets. Other popular Christmas gifts included apparel, toys, books and cosmetics. In Europe, subscription-based gifts such as music and movie streaming services became a more popular gift option.

Mr Wong said that economic growth should continue its momentum in 2019, but there is the possibility of a slowdown. “Given the growing uncertainties in the global environment, Hong Kong exporters should prepare for a possible economic slowdown in the coming year and capture any opportunities arising from the transition to a new retail model,” he said.

Highlights of the report

United States

* According to Mastercard SpendingPulse, which tracks both online and in-store sales for all payment types, holiday retail sales in the US increased 5.1% to more than US$850 billion, registering the strongest growth in six years. Thanks to a cold snap right before Christmas, apparel enjoyed its highest growth since 2010.

* Favourable conditions, including positive developments in the domestic economy and the massive tax cuts put into effect earlier in the year, appeared to boost the shopping sentiment. In October 2018, American consumer confidence reached an 18-year high.

* Consumer electronics including TVs, tablets, smart home devices and related accessories were the most sought-after products this Christmas. Other popular Christmas gifts included toys, books and cosmetics.

Western Europe

* Overall economic growth was sustained, but the retail sectors in some Western European countries were affected by political or economic uncertainties, and a possible spillover effect from Sino-US trade tensions.

* The German Retail Federation (HDE), a major organisation representing the German retail sector, expected Christmas sales to increase by 2% to hit a record-high of US$114 billion, slowing down from growth of 3.8% over Christmas in 2017. German’s retail performance was supported by robust economic indicators, including rising real wages and record-high employment since German reunification in 1990.

* In France, the retail sentiment was dampened by the anti-government “yellow vest” protests, which began in November. The protests are estimated to have cost the country’s retailers at least US$1.1 billion in revenue. Online sales in France were flat over the first nine days of December.

* Amid the shadow cast by the ongoing Brexit negotiations, the UK’s retail performance remained gloomy. Retail analyst Springboard reported a dropping high street footfall over the festive season.

* Other signs of weak retail sentiment included store closures by major UK retailers. House of Fraser, Evans Cycles, Maplin and Poundworld all closed stores in the high street, while online retail giant ASOS recently issued a profit warning.

* Smartphones, electronic gaming consoles, books, clothes and accessories were some of the best-selling items in Europe during this festive season. Consumers in Western European countries showed a greater interest in subscription-based gifts such as music and movie streaming services.


* Economic growth in Japan remains solid despite a string of natural disasters over the summer.

* The retail sales figures from October showed the largest growth in the past 10 months. The momentum is likely to continue through the New Year sales in early January, which is traditionally the peak shopping season in Japan.

Mainland China

* Consumer demand remained robust.

* Alibaba posted record sales of US$31 billion in the 10th edition of its annual online shopping event, Singles’ Day, on 11 November. This represented growth of 27% over the previous year, but it was the lowest growth over the past 10 years.

* Electronics and appliances such as smartphones, air conditioners, computers and gaming consoles remained in demand among Chinese shoppers. Other popular items included imported healthcare items, baby products and cosmetics.

Emerging Markets

* Supported by economic recovery, retail sales in emerging markets saw a robust increase in revenue over the festive season.

* In Russia, an upcoming VAT rate hike that comes into effect on 1 January led to more consumers making purchases before the New Year. However, a Deloitte survey showed there are growing concerns over the sustainability of the current growth in the Russian economy, which may indicate an economic slowdown over the near term.

* In Poland, a survey carried out by IBRiS, on behalf of Bank Millennium, said the total household spending for Christmas 2018 is estimated to reach US$6.3 billion, an increase of 8.6% compared to the previous year.

* Improving economic conditions boosted Brazilians’ Christmas spending. A survey conducted jointly by the National Confederation of Retailers and SPC Brasil, the Brazilian credit bureau, predicted that sales between 4 and 24 December would increase by about 2.7% – the highest growth since 2014 – generating revenue of US$13.6 billion for the economy.

* In Mexico, the Confederation of National Chambers of Commerce (Concanaco Servytur) said that overall consumer spending during “El Buen Fin”, Mexico’s own version of Black Friday sales, increased strongly by 8% to US$5 billion.

Link to the full report: https://bit.ly/2Aijr04


Established in 1966, the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC) is a statutory body dedicated to creating opportunities for Hong Kong’s businesses. With 50 offices globally, including 13 on the Chinese mainland, the HKTDC promotes Hong Kong as a platform for doing business with China, Asia and the world. With more than 50 years of experience, the HKTDC organises international exhibitions, conferences and business missions to provide companies, particularly SMEs, with business opportunities on the mainland and in international markets, while providing business insights and information via trade publications, research reports and digital channels including the media room. For more information, please visit:www.hktdc.com/aboutus. Follow us on Google+, [email protected], LinkedIn.

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S. Jack Heffernan Ph.D. Funds Manager at HEFFX holds a Ph.D. in Economics and brings with him over 25 years of trading experience in Asia and hands on experience in Venture Capital, he has been involved in several start ups that have seen market capitalization over $500m and 1 that reach a peak market cap of $15b. He has managed and overseen start ups in Mining, Shipping, Technology and Financial Services.

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