January sales in December?
There was no sign of any people camping overnight or round-the-block queuing for early bargains yesterday.
Boxing Day sales made the headlines in Europe’s main cities but not so much in Valletta, where the shopping mood was seen to be rather mellow.
Most of the retailers are opting to wait until the gift season is over, in January. But the few high street shops in Valletta and Sliema which kicked off their sales yesterday still saw their fair share of enthusiastic shoppers.
Charles Mifsud, general manager at Esprit, said that, for the past five years, his shops always started their sales on Boxing Day. “Our competitors are now online shops and it’s sale time on all major websites like Asos,” he said.
To shoppers who think that sales are bigger on the continent, Mr Mifsud said: “Our sales are exactly the same as in London. We have to follow the franchise guidelines.”
Esprit customers who purchased items as gifts before the sales have until the end of the year to change it at full price.
Although the Accesorize outlets in the UK have started their sales, those in Malta will not do so before January. “It all depends on what sells in your territory: it’s common sense, really,” said Theresa Bartolo Parnis, Accesorize director.
“I never understand retailers who start the sales before January. It’s shooting yourself in the foot,” she said. “We’re running a business here, not a charity.”
She pointed out that sales are at the discretion of the retailer. “Customers are sort of coming to expect it as being their right. I once had a customer who came in on the first day of sales expecting a particular dress to be on sale,” she said. The January-sales customer, according to Ms Bartolo Parnis, is usually different to the regular customer who does not normally wait for sales to purchase items.
She said that sales time was for bargains, but it depended on stock management. “In the UK, they are in a better position to give better discounts because they have more stock; it’s economies of scale, really.”
At Zara, the Spanish clothes outlet, sales start on January 2.
Malcolm Attard, general manager, said that all Zara shops across the eurozone were in the same boat. It is only this winter’s stock that will be on sale. “We do not keep stuff from previous years. On the last day of the sales, we’ll pack everything and send it abroad where it is distributed to charity,” explained Mr Attard.
Sales percentages at Zara, he said, were worked out by a computer system – the items that were not sold would be the ones having the highest discounts.
Although the January sales did not affect business during Christmas, Zara noticed a hike in people buying vouchers, “as gifts for people to spend during sales”.
Marcus Lauri, director at Sisley, would not give out the date when items at his outlet would go on sale. “It is unfair that all those people who have been purchasing from us over December suddenly find the prices of the items they bought slashed,” he said. Although his is a franchise, he feels lucky that he is not obliged to follow any guidelines from the mother company. “We value our clients and we will inform them when we will be having sales,” said Mr Lauri.
It is not just clothes that go on sale. At Agenda Bookshops, promotion started this month and will last until the end of January. Customers who have a loyalty card get double points for every book purchased, which they can then redeem against books. “We like to reward our loyal customers,” said Charles Darmanin, retail coordinator at Agenda Bookshops.
Know your rights
Odette Vella, from the consumer affairs office of the Malta Competition and Consumer Affairs Authority, said that sales were held by outlets voluntarily. “A shop is not obliged to hold a sale and it is the prerogative of the retailers which items to place on sale if they decide to have one,” she explained.
It is imperative that retailers stick to whatever they promise or advertise. “If the advert says it’s 50 per cent off all items, and there is no small print, then the retailers have to give that to all their customers.”
Price indication is very important too. “You cannot leave the customer to work out the new price of the item,” she said, pointing out that the new slashed price must be visible – either on the tag or in the form of a price table.
Legal rights are not affected by sales. Even though retailers might have notices saying that sale items are not exchangeable, that applies only to a change of mind. “For example, if you buy an item in a sale and the retailer makes it clear that it cannot be changed you cannot go home, decide you are not so keen on the item anymore and expect to change it,” she said.
However, if an item bought in a sale is damaged or defective, then the retailer is obliged to fix it. “If that is not possible, then the item has to be replaced and if the item is no longer available the money paid has to be given back,” she explained.
What if you bought an item as a gift for December 25? Can the gift receiver exchange it? “If that was the agreement, yes, but usually the retailer asks for the exchange to be carried out prior to the sale in order to avoid problems.” Even so, if the item is damaged, then the customer has the right to get the money back – the original cost of the item.
“It is always advisable for customers to check sale agreements prior to purchase,” said Ms Vella.