From the crowds in Okhotny Ryad, you’d never know it was a workday. On a recent afternoon, people were strolling past shop windows decorated with garlands, artificial Christmas trees and fashionably dressed mannequins sporting Santa Claus caps.
As the New Year’s shopping season enters its frantic last week, most customers said they hadn’t changed their plans much since last year, while store mangers seemed buoyed by sales after a sleepy November.
Tatyana, a 55-year-old teacher who came to Moscow a few days ago from the Zabaikalsky region in Siberia, looked confused as she stood at the balustrade of the mall’s second level. She has no idea what to give her son.
“He said I shouldn’t get him anything, but I can’t leave him without a present. It’s always so hard to find something for a young man. At the very least I’ll buy him cologne,” she said.
Many of the people in Okhotny Ryad, one of the largest malls in downtown Moscow, did not want to give their names. Most said they were looking for traditional presents again this year — especially cosmetics and candy.
Irina Litvinenko, a corporate clients manager, complained that it was because there aren’t many affordable options in Russia.
“I’ll give traditional presents to my friends, such as perfume and cosmetics kits. Something original is too expensive, and these things are affordable and always necessary, especially for ladies,” said Litvinenko, 33.
The average Russian will buy up to a dozen New Year’s presents this year, spending a total of 8,400 rubles ($275), consulting company Deloitte said in a survey released earlier this month. Total spending for the country’s biggest holiday — including presents, food and entertainment — will average 16,700 rubles this season, the report said.
Last year, the total for holiday spending was 19,800 rubles, the report said, without giving a breakdown. It did say, however, that 49 percent of people wanted to be given money this year, up from 36 percent in 2008.
Store mangers said the amount of money that customers were ready to spend varied enormously, but most said it was shaping up to be a decent holiday season.
“People will pay anywhere from 100 rubles to 10,000 rubles and more at a time,” said a manger at souvenir shop Krasny Kub, or Red Cube, who did not want to be identified because she was not authorized to talk to the media.
She said people were buying everything, “from cups to disco balls,” and sales at the shop had increased twofold in December from the same month last year.
“Our sales have jumped by at least 50 percent this month compared with November,” said Anna Ledovskaya, a manager at L’Occitane, which sells French hair- and body-care products. “The customer flow increased starting from Dec. 16. People are buying presents for relatives. Parents are buying little things for their kids’ teachers and nannies,” she said.
Most customers at Okhotny Ryad, which caters to a middle-class clientele, said their spending on presents wouldn’t be more than 10,000 rubles and many complained that another year of high inflation was partly responsible for higher spending.
“I’m planning to spend up to 10,000 rubles on presents this year. That’ll be more than I spent last year because the prices have increased by 20 to 30 percent, I think,” said Dragan Markovich, 48, a Serb who has been living in Moscow for the last six years.
The government expects inflation to reach about 9 percent for the year, and the State Statistics Service said Wednesday that prices had risen 0.2 percent in the week ending Monday.
Analysts said there had been no changes in consumer behavior ahead of the holidays, because presents are one of the last things that people stop buying in a crisis.
“It’s beyond belief for people not to buy presents. Even in a crisis, they want to please their nearest,” said Anna Romanova, a research director at Synovate Russia, a market research company. “Most people buy customary things — cosmetics, shirts, ties. There’s a traditional boom in the perfumery and household appliance sectors now.”
Managers at some souvenir shops argued that those gifts were banal and boring, while people wanted to get something unconventional and interesting.
“The most popular item people buy at our store as a present is a telescopic fork, which is 62 centimeters long,” said Vladlen Azaryev, an administrator at novelty items shop Le Futur. “It may be very useful for a lady who wants to give her boyfriend something delicious to try from her plate if he’s sitting far away,” he said jokingly.
But only young shoppers seemed to be looking for something out of the ordinary.
Ksenia Sleptsova, a 19-year-old law student, said she wanted to find a meaningful gift for her father, an officer in the paratroops. “My dad collects souvenirs related to the armed forces, and I want to get him something special,” she said. “I’ve heard there’s a kitchenware kit at one of the shops. Even though it’s not customary to give kitchenware to men, I’m sure he’ll understand when he gets a herring dish in the form of an assault rifle from me.”