x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Credit card pinch hits Christmas retail sales

Economy's health depends on flexibility, say retailers as consumer spending is curtailed by restrictions at busiest time of the year.

People shopping for Christmas gifts at Lamcy Plaza in Dubai might have been affected by new credit rules.
People shopping for Christmas gifts at Lamcy Plaza in Dubai might have been affected by new credit rules.

ABU DHABI // Retailers say a decision by banks to cut credit limits is embarrassing their customers and could hurt sales at a critical time of year. Several leading banks confirmed they had cut the credit limits of some customers, many of whom were not alerted to the changes. Retailers said they also had not been made aware of the cuts, and found out only when cards were refused, even for relatively small transactions.

Many said it was important that credit limits remained the same to maintain confidence in the economy, although spending continues to be healthy during one of the year's busiest shopping periods. Sajeesh Pillai, the manager of the Rivoli Arcade in Al Wahda Mall in the capital, which specialises in high-end goods, said the cuts had had a noticeable effect in recent weeks. "Before, cards were declined, but only for transactions of about Dh40,000 (US$10,900) or Dh50,000. But in the last two weeks, sometimes it is declined for Dh2,000 or Dh3,000. That never happened before.

"We have had it with two or three customers, where we have to call up the bank. The customers didn't know about it, it has just suddenly happened. "It is embarrassing for them when it happens, and they either have to go to the machine or we call up and arrange it with the bank. "But we have to spend a lot of time dealing with it, and the customers sometimes have to wait 10 or 15 minutes." KP Baiju, general manager of the Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group, said he was aware of customers having their credit cards refused because of reduced credit.

"This is not good. I have read comments from the authorities, saying they want banks to be proactive by encouraging more shopping. "Here in Dubai, we focus on tourism and retail, and this is a time when we should be ever more supportive of this sector. Arbitrary changes like this are surprising and do not send out a good message at the end of the day. "I don't understand the logic of it - in the immediate season, it is Christmas and the new year, a season where there is a lot of spending and, in Dubai, around 35 per cent of the retail business comes in this period."

Standard Chartered Bank said it had reduced some customers' credit limits to as little as Dh1,000, while some HSBC customers have seen their limits cut by up to 80 per cent. Bank sources told The National the move was a knock-on effect of the global credit crisis. They fear that some customers faced with redundancy will withdraw substantial amounts on their credit cards before leaving the country for good.

The National Bank of Abu Dhabi also reduced the amount customers could withdraw on credit cards as an investigation into widespread credit card fraud was continuing. Neil Tunbridge, the head of retail services with Dubai consultancy GRMC, said the decision to reduce credit limits was logical and would mean that stores would not be left liable if customers ran up debts and left the country. "I am sure retailers are not going to welcome this, but I do not think retailers would want to take unnecessary risks on purchases where they may have to absorb the cost if the credit is not available.

"It is a high-spend time of year, but I don't see it as a bad move. Retailers may say that the liquidity they need to keep in the system may decline." @Email:rhughes@thenational.ae