Lagging Sales Dismay Vendors Before New Year

Chinese New Year is normally a time of celebration and gift giving, but few vendors in Phnom Penh’s markets are in a festive mood, citing lagging sales during the lead up to the lunar holiday.

On Sunday, shop owners blam­ed the global economic slowdown as the reason behind the belt-tightening, saying customers are paring down their shopping lists and driving hard bargains for goods like meat, flowers and fruit.

Calling 2009 the “toughest year ever,” Eng Nary, a fruit vendor at Phsar Thmei said that last year she bought about 30 cases of fruit from Thailand, Vietnam and beyond to sell during the lunar new year. This year, with demand tumbling, she halved her order.

“People come to buy about four to five pieces of fruit, while last year they bought 3 to 5 kilograms of fruit,” the 36-year-old said. “It looks quiet this year; that is why I bought less fruit.”

Over in Phsar O’Russei, vendor Chy Huong, 18, described a similar situation. She said shoppers have cut back on buying servings of grilled pork from her stall, forcing her to slash her inventory and, in turn, her profit.

“Last year I grilled about 600 pigs and it cost about 45,000 riel [about $11.25] per kilogram. But this year I grilled about 400 pigs and it fetched about 35,000 riel [about $8.75] per kilogram,” she said. “I asked [my customers] why they reduced the amount of pig they bought, and they responded that they had not made a good profit this year.”

Tighter profit margins have also placed many merchants in a squeeze. Selling lotuses at Phsar Thmei, 22-year-old Sok Chan said the cost of the flower has risen, shrinking her earnings by roughly one third.

“Since the price of flowers has increased, it is hard to make money,” she said Sunday.

Besides lower sales, one grilled-pork vendor, who declined to give her name, reported more bargain hunters haggling over the price.

“Last year we made good sales with a high price of 50,000 riel [about $12.50] per kilogram and people came to buy without asking for a discount,” said the 44-year-old vendor. “But this year I have not made a good sale and when people come to buy they keep asking for a discount.”

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