The principal economist with the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research, Shamubeel Eaqub, says January will be critical for small retailers after Boxing Day sales were lower than hoped for.
Figures from Paymark, the major eftpos and credit card service operator, show shoppers spent almost $3 million less than on Boxing Day last year.
That's a drop of 2.8%, despite an increase in prices during the year and GST on 1 October.
With living costs going up, Mr Eaqub says people are having to be more cautious. While large retailers won't necessarily suffer as a result, he says it may not make sense for smaller ones who have been finding it tough for some time to stay in business.
The head of Auckland Council's business advisory panel describes the Boxing Day sales figures as "an absolute shocker". Panel chairman Cameron Brewer says the figures are worse than last year's, when shoppers were coming out of a recession.
However, Noel Leeming says larger stores were able to buck the trend. Its chief executive, John Journee, says more customers made purchases in his stores this Boxing Day. However, he told Summer Report that the money value of individual items they bought was lower.