THE SAN FERNANDO and Chaguanas business chambers are calling on customers to shop early this Christmas, as freight and customs issues have caused businesses to limit the range and amount of goods they can supply.
Chaguanas Chamber of Industry and Commerce president Richie Sookhai said, “We know that Trinidad and Tobago citizens are last-minute buyers when it comes to Christmas, and a lot of people are looking forward to see whatever extra earnings they could be awarded for the season, and we are hoping for that surge on that last week of Christmas.”
“But for a lot of the business individuals, in terms of getting products, because of the shocks to the supply chain globally, you may not have as wide a selection of products as before. There are healthy selections in the stores, but how long they are going to last, we don’t know,
"So it is a first come, first serve basis for shoppers. So we are urging them if they can, don’t wait till last minute.”
Greater San Fernando Area Chamber of Commerce president Kiran Singh said challenges with increases in shipping costs, shipping delays and delays at the ports are affecting not only business owners but customers as well.
“We are experiencing shipping delays, which increases the cost of shipments. Apart from that, shipping costs have increased by 300-500 per cent.
“We also have a serious concern with the creeping food inflation at the grocery shelves – which goes back to supply-chain issues.
"The variety of goods that we have is somewhat lessened. Some stores such as the mom-and-pop stores, you can see the variety is less. But they are doing what they can. They are borrowing extra and sourcing funding out of financial institutions, to purchase additional stock,” Singh said.
Singh called for the ports and customs to be open for longer hours and on weekends and holidays.
“Time is money,” he said. “This is what we need to address in a significant way, with trade union representatives and the government, so that value-added products come at the best possible time and costs are kept as minimal as possible.”
Singh said when there are delays at customs it causes rental charges to go up. That also falls on the business owner and the consumer.
“We should have the ports open 24/7,” he said. “With our imports and exports, with Panama being a neighbour with their free economic zones, and with the Trade Minister looking at the establishment of our own special economic zones, the ports now have to fall in line with that to increase activity. Without that endpoint being effective, that may cause a shortfall in how the supply of imports works, not only for us, but for the manufacturing sector as well.”
Chamber heads said although some people are still waiting until the last minute to do their shopping, there is still some economic activity since covid19 restrictions were lifted.
Sookhai said there was significant foot traffic last weekend and business owners are very happy now that restrictions have been lessened and businesses are operational.
Singh also said business activity in San Fernando has increased, with greater commercial activity happening across the board. He added that for the Christmas season the usual subsections – businesses that sell toys, electronics, digital devices, furniture and appliances – will see the most action.
As far as security is concerned, Sookhai said a joint initiative with Port of Spain, where police and traffic wardens patrol the areas and advise on target-hardening measures for patrons and business owners alike, is adding an extra layer of security for shoppers.
“They are reminding them to just be mindful of their surroundings. An attempted robbery may not happen in the store or on the street _ it may happen while you are entering or exiting your home. Criminals may be marking you,” Sookhai said.
Sookhai also noted that while there is foot traffic in his area, businesses, including vendors need to be careful to limit crowding and to ensure a proper flow is maintained at all times.
“Chaguanas is usually jam-packed with street vending, but we are working with TTPS Central Division and the mayor’s office by allocating different areas under proper covid19 protocols to allow the vendors to still ply their trade, but also follow the protocols and not create any mass congregation.”
Still, many customers are cautious about loosening their purse strings, Singh said, especially since an increase in prices and a decrease in revenue for many have limited customers’ purchasing power.
“While salaries of public servants have remained unchanged, those in the casual working sector who are permanent, part-time, skilled and unskilled, their wages have dropped significantly. What they are doing is purchasing very carefully and selectively,”