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Retailer confidence rock bottom, new survey finds

Retailer confidence rock bottom, new survey finds

Indochina Research survey finds that 87 percent of retailers think economy has worsened in past six months, but 59 percent expect improvements

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A shopper pays at a Lucky Supermarket checkout in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. The majority of retailers in Cambodia have seen declining fortunes in the past six months, a new survey said.

CAMBODIAN retailers have been hit hard by the global economic crisis, but more than half expected conditions to improve over the next six months, a survey of retailer confidence released today by Indochina Research shows.

The company's second-quarter I-TRAK survey questioned 600 retailers in Phnom Penh, the Lao capital Vientiane, and Vietnam's two major cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. It covered convenience and grocery stores, other retail stores, and the hospitality, restaurant and catering sectors.

Eighty-seven percent of Cambodian respondents said economic conditions were worse in March compared with six months earlier. Only 2 percent said economic conditions had improved, and 11 percent said they had stayed the same.

Most retailers in Cambodia had suffered financially with falling customer numbers and decreasing spend-per-customer eating into profit margins, the survey showed. The decline came despite many dropping prices to boost sales.

But IndoChina Research General Manager Laurent Notin said the survey also contained good news for the sector. Of the Cambodian respondents, 59 percent said the worst was behind them and that the retail situation would stabilise or improve over the next six months.

"Yes, [retailers] are affected by the economic slowdown; yes, they have fewer customers and lower profits - but they do think the economic situation in the next six months will get  better," Notin said.

"As the midpoint between manufacturers and customers, retailers are the centre of everything. They are closely connected to the economy and their confidence is a good sign for future growth."

Lam Sopheap, general manger at Sorya Shopping Centre in Phnom Penh, said April was even worse than March for retailers, with the New Year period unusually slow. "This Khmer New Year, everywhere was quiet because nobody wanted to spend money," he said.

Sales at Sorya have been down 30 to 40 percent in April compared with a year earlier, he added, but he said he expected the retail situation to improve by the middle of 2010.

Confidence among retailers in Vietnam was stronger than in Cambodia, but 68 percent of respondents still said economic conditions were worse in March than six months earlier. A further 12 percent said the economic situation had improved for retailers and 20 percent said it had remained unchanged.

Laos bucked the trend with 52 percent of respondents saying conditions had improved for retailers, compared with just 22 percent that said conditions had worsened.

Unlike in Cambodia and Vietnam where retailers lowered prices to attract customers, prices for retail goods in Laos were higher in March compared to six months earlier.

The second-quarter I-TRAK report followed a consumer confidence survey in late February that showed that 39 percent of Cambodian consumers thought economic conditions had worsened, compared with 37 percent that thought they had improved.

"By definition, retailers are always less confident than consumers so I am not surprised to see lower confidence levels than consumers," Notin said.

The retail confidence survey confirmed a Phnom Penh Post report in March that found sales had dropped by up to a half at four of Phnom Penh's main supermarkets in the first quarter of 2009. Sales at Pencil Shopping Centre had dropped by around 20 percent, Sorya Shopping Centre reported a 25 percent sales decline, Sydney Shopping Centre 30 percent and Sovanna Supermarket 50 percent, the Post found.

Chhoy Chhunly, owner of the Lovely clothing shop in Pencil on Sothearos Boulevard, also reported a sales decline in recent months, but said economic conditions were not behind the slump. Rather, Hun Sen's decision in February to outlaw sports and electronic gambling had led to a marked decline in the number of women buying clothes for work in the sector.

"Before, one girl would buy two, three or even four dresses at a time," she said. "Now they say they have no money so they maybe buy one dress or none at all."

Notin said retailers that looked to the future and understood their market would come out the slump the strongest.

"The main message is to do your homework even more than before," he said. "We know the economy is slowing down globally so take that into account, but don't be afraid to invest. It's about long-term thinking."

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