Retailers in Western Australia have responded to changes in consumer spending during COVID-19 by cutting opening hours, with fashion retailers implementing the most aggressive reductions, new research has found.
More than 5000 shopping centre retailers were part of a Y Research study which found almost half had slashed trading hours by 19 per cent due to COVID-19.
Y Research principal Damian Stone said 47.8 per cent of retailers had cut their opening hours, reducing their trading hours by an average of 18.7 per cent a week.
“Retailers are commonly opening an hour later and closing half an hour earlier (10am to 5pm, rather than 9am-5.30pm) per day, with the exception of Thursdays,” he said.
“On Thursdays, many retailers have reduced their hours by 3.29 hours – mainly by not trading until 9pm.
“The decision by retailers – both independents and major chains – to reduce their trading hours is reflective of the fact that consumers decide when stores open. So far people have voted with their wallets – either by increased online shopping, reduced discretionary spending or not spending at all.”
Cockburn Gateways, Midland Gate, Westfield Whitfords and Rockingham Shopping Centre were among the major regional centres included in the 78 shopping centres inspected.
Regional centres included Claremont Quarter, Ocean Keys, Westfield Innaloo and Karrinyup Shopping Centre, while sub-regional centres included Bentley Plaza, Stirling Central, Waterford Plaza, Kingsway City and Dianella Plaza.
Other centres classed as a ‘super neighbourhood’ centre, which had 20 or more stores including a supermarket, were part of the research and this included Ballajura City, Dog Swamp, Flinders Square, Leeming Forum, Primewest Gwelup and Hawaiian The Mezz.
Mr Stone said visiting the centres in person gave him the opportunity to hear firsthand the struggles retailers were facing during the pandemic.
“A guy I bought shaving cream from, he was literally standing outside the store just waiting for customers to come,” he said.
“A lot of retailers you’d have literally waiting at their front door, waiting for people to come in. The worrying thing is you have a lot of these people who have let go of their staff. When shutdown came they had to let go of staff as they weren’t open and now that they are trading the franchisee or a single staff member is there.”
All major stakeholders in shopping centres – owners, retailers and retail workers – were being negatively impacted by reduced trading, Mr Stone said.
“Retail workers in these centres are losing out in WA. Based on the minimum hourly rate of $19.49, employees across all centres are missing out on at least $100,156 in lost wages per day,” he said.
“Across the largest 48 centres, retailers in each centre are forgoing an estimated average of $35,775 per day in sales compared to last year due to the reduced hours and continued store closures.”
The research was conducted throughout June after COVID-19 restrictions had eased, with the aim to distinguish the response to the pandemic from retailers in each of the centres.
More than 95 per cent of the 5240 occupied stores within the 78 shopping centres were open for trade. This compared with 38.7 per cent of retailers open across the major 16 shopping centres in late April.
“Based on discussions with various retailers, forecasting consumer spending is a daily challenge. As a result, retailers are focusing on keeping costs as low as possible either by reducing staff numbers or trading hours,” Mr Stone said.
Women’s fashion, of all fashion retailers, had been the most prominent in reducing their opening hours.
“There are examples of national fashion chains closing certain stores on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Across centres, there remains inconsistency with brand-name retailers opening in some centres but remaining closed in others. The continued closure of these stores suggests national chains may look to close these under-performing stores in the months ahead, adding to existing high vacancies,” Mr Stone said.
Looking ahead to the remainder of 2020, Mr Stone said many retailers would be looking to December.
“Christmas – that’s probably the one hope. I think an overwhelming majority of retailers are going to go to Christmas and rely on a good Christmas (trading period),” he said.