Gift Markets on Slippery Slope




The Ethiopian Christmas holiday is upon us. The relatively recent tradition of buying gifts for loved ones during the holiday means that customers are going into shops and bazaars looking for the best deal on jewelry, toys, and household items.

Any kind of holiday usually means that there are more shopping options for consumers, whether it’s new stock or steep discounts on old stock.

Even though it is a new tradition, gift shopping means that every shop is trying to compete in an environment of increased spending, and an increasingly varied field.

Jewelry and souvenir items have been traditionally popular items as gifts around holidays. However, this year, there hasn’t been much interest in such items from traditional shops.

Household items are traditionally a popular gift for the holidays in Addis.

“Usually it’s tourists who buy souvenir items, and sometimes during the holidays, people buy gifts for their family. But now, there are no tourists, and very few people are coming in for gift items. It’s killing our business,” says Selam Woube, who works in a gift and souvenir shop.

Ester Shop, on Dej. Afewerk Street, in the heart of the Piassa area, opened its doors around 75 years ago. In that time, the shop has sold all kinds of gift articles and toys, as well as art pieces, although those are not as popular outside of wedding season.

“People mostly buy toys around this time,” says Yetinayet, the owner of the shop. “We also have people buying little things like jewelry cases for their loved ones. But it’s not very active.”

Household items are traditionally a popular gift for the holidays in Addis.

“For holidays, people usually buy items like dinner sets and coffee pots. Decorated dinner sets are popular as gifts,” says Tsegay, who owns a household items shop.

However, it seems like business is dropping by the day.

“We make about half of what we used to make during Christmas,” says Abera. “We used to bring in around 14,000 Br a day. Now we make about 7,000 or 8,000Br.”

“We get much fewer customers than we used to,” Abera added.

Although the demand for household items has fallen, an ever-popular gift remains jewellery. Piassa area, traditionally the city’s jewellery center is always a hive of activity. As usual, throngs of people are going to and fro, some going in and out of the numerous shops and going about their business.

Jewelry, another popular gift item, doesn’t seem to correspond to many patterns.

“The sets are the most popular right now,” says one jeweler. “We sell sets of matching necklaces and earrings that are popular for gifts.”

Another very popular jewelry item during the holidays is rings.

“Mostly younger people buy rings. Usually it’s engaged couples or newlyweds buying those,” said the jeweler.

Jewelry can cost from 2000 Br to more than 4000 Br, for a set of earrings and a necklace. Diamond rings can cost anywhere from 30,000 Br to 40,000 Br depending on the design, and its more popular cousin, cubic zirconia, costs about a tenth of the price.

Parseghian Jewelry, which opened its doors in 1875, produces handmade jewelry and gift articles from materials like bronze and silver.

In spite of the lowered tourist numbers, and the seeming reluctance of some members of the public to spend money on gifts, the shop hasn’t seen any real dip in customers.

This is truer for the Christmas holiday than any other, because of the amount of merchandise associated with the holiday.

“I think it’s because the designs are unique to the shop. We haven’t really seen any kind of drop in our customers,” says one of the shop’s proprietors.

While many people choose to buy jewelry for the holidays, gifts are becoming less and less attractive to a growing number of consumers.

“I don’t think I’ll buy any gifts at all,” says Saba, a 36-year-old mother of three. “If I do buy anything, it will just be one thing each for my children. Life’s too expensive at the moment.”

However, there is another entrant on to the market who is chipping away at the market that larger shops have, especially around the Christmas holiday.

Street vendors have always been a common sight around the streets of the capital. However, lately, there has been an uptick in the number of vendors who peddle their wares on pedestrian-heavy streets.

The holidays are usually a time when the number of vendors on the streets multiplies. This is truer for the Christmas holiday than any other, because of the amount of merchandise associated with the holiday.

In pedestrian-heavy areas, such as bus and taxi terminals, street vendors set up their wares, some with a radio playing to add to the holiday feeling for the customers. Amongst the stalls decorated with tinsel and colourful greetings cards, people browse through small religious icons and rows of decorations and cards.

“The most popular things here are the religious images and crosses,” says Beyene, a 28-year-old street vendor. He normally sells watches and sunglasses when it is not holiday season. At this job, he pulls in around 5000 Br a day.

Decorations, lights, and trees are also popular items during the holiday rush, he added.

Surprisingly, this year has been good from the start.

“Normally, people don’t start to buy much until the last two or three days before the holiday,” Beyene explained. “Now, even two weeks before, I was doing good business.”

The popularity of the street vendors over conventional shops seems to be down to the money. With Christmas themed expos going on all around town, and almost everything consumers want available at cheap prices from street vendors, the usual rush associated with the holiday hasn’t come around to all shops.

“There used to be more people coming in last year, even two years ago,” said Yetinayet, the owner of Ester. “We make around 10, 000 Br now, which is around our daily average during normal days. Before, during Christmas, we made from 2 to 4 times more.”

The best way to stay competitive is to change stock often and constantly present a fresh face to the buying public, she said.

Although gift articles and household items have been taking a hit this Christmas holiday, as has the entire Christmas market, some people are finding a way to fill the gaps. The change of street vendors to more and more legitimate alternatives to traditional shops might mean the return of a more marketplace, less shopping mall attitude towards commerce in the capital.

 

 



By MENNA ASRAT
FORTUNE STAFF WRITER

Published on Jan 10,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 871]


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