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Thursday, Feb 22, 2024

Hong Kong’s Christmas tree demand has withered. What’s the root cause?

Hong Kong’s Christmas tree demand has withered. What’s the root cause?

Home retailer Ikea attracted a rush of customers in Hong Kong last Thursday after it slashed the price of fresh Christmas trees to just HK$50 (US$6.42), but some retailers have said the move was a sign of sluggish festive sales.

The 1.5-metre Nordmann fir trees sold at HK$999 until the store dropped the price to HK$599 late last month, and then to its latest bargain basement level.

“Probably everyone had a lot of stock left,” Justin Chung, founder of online florist Gift Flower HK, whose website listed a 1.8-metre noble fir at HK$1,999, said.

Chung said he bought in about 30 per cent less than the 200 trees he had for sale last year.

He added he had sold out, but that he had made a loss of HK$100 to HK$300 on the last third of them.

Chung added that Hongkongers who could not travel last year because of Covid-19 restrictions splashed out on decorating their homes with real Christmas trees.

But he suggested now that travel restrictions had eased, people preferred to save for a trip instead.

He said his hamper business, which caters mainly to corporate customers, also suffered a sharp drop from the 5,000 he sold last year. Chung expected to sell only half as many, or even fewer, this year with just a week left to Christmas.

Businesses were spending less on corporate gifts, probably because of the downbeat economy, and some of his clients had laid off workers too.

“Usually it’s about HK$1,200 per hamper, but now we are looking at HK$600 to HK$700 each,” he said.

Chung added that the cheaper hampers had either no alcohol or a lower-end bottle of wine.

Christmas trees at enormous discounts at Ikea.

Sophie’s Christmas Trees, a garden suppliers shop in Ma On Shan, said turnover remained steady and it had sold more than 1,000 real trees to repeat customers and referrals, but profit margins had been slashed.

Manager Joyce Li said the cost of shipment from the United States had risen sharply but she could not mark up her prices by too much or loyal customers might walk away.

Dozens of real Christmas trees were lined up outside shops in Mong Kok’s flower market on Thursday afternoon, priced at about HK$480 for a 1.5-metre tree and HK$650 for a 1.8-metre version.

But a shopkeeper at Chung Sing flower shop, who asked to be identified as Chan, said sales were well down on last year, although she declined to reveal figures.

Chan said some people, apart from those travelling over the Christmas holidays, might be saving for Lunar New Year, which is only a month away.

Retail sector lawmaker Peter Shiu Ka-fai said Hong Kong’s stagnant economy had caused corporate customers and ordinary shoppers to cut back on festive spending.

But he added he was hopeful that, as Christmas approached, Hong Kong’s wintry weather and possibly the return of overseas visitors might deliver a last-minute boost to the festive mood and help fill tills.

Shiu said he looked forward to 2023 and the ultimate reboot of the city’s retail sector – the return of mainland Chinese visitors.

“Next year, sales will grow really rapidly as the reopening of mainland borders will come very soon,” he predicted.
Extra stock has led to some retailers slashing prices on trees this festive season.

Two city residents already in the festive mood this year were among those who managed to snag bargain trees last week.

Samuel Kong, 36, a salesman, said he had avoided buying real trees in the past because of the high price.

But he said as he snapped up a $50 tree at Ikea’s Causeway Bay store on Thursday: “It’d be a great pity and loss if I didn’t buy this one.”

Luke Casey, 36, a photographer, bought a tree even though he will be travelling over the holidays.

“The real one that has a smell that is obviously better and you have the feeling of Christmas,” he explained.


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