Thousands of Boxing Day bargain hunters have rushed into stores across the country for what is expected to be a record-breaking day of spending — following what could be the worst Christmas shopping season in more than a decade.
The most eager shoppers arrived outside large department stores around the country on Christmas Day to beat the crowds inside when doors opened as early as 5:00am on Boxing Day.
Melbourne resident Jenny Penev said she and her friend had arrived at the Bourke Street mall about midnight to be among the first inside.
“We’ve been doing it for the past few years so it’s kind of like a tradition for us now,” she said.
But she noted a difference to previous years: “It’s not as busy as before, I think,” she said.
Tax cuts and record-low interest rates have failed to boost spending, and the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) said it was forecast to be the weakest Christmas shopping period in 11 years.
The ARA’s head, Russell Zimmerman, said this morning that drought and bushfires had “most definitely” made an impact on the bottom line for sales.
He said the growing popularity of Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales had also seen a change in consumer spending in the lead-up to Christmas.
“I think as we move forward over the next few years we’ll see more and more of that. We would be expecting that online will move from around 7 per cent to around 15 per cent over the next few years,” he said.
But the traditional post-Christmas spending frenzy could provide a boost — ARA-linked research predicted Australians were set to spend $18.72 billion across retail stores during the post-Christmas trading period, from Boxing Day to January 15.
The National Retail Association (NRA) forecast Australian shoppers would splash a record of more than $2.6 billion around the country today alone.
Mr Zimmerman said regional and suburban shops were increasingly likely to be open on the Boxing Day public holiday, which could see a shift in people moving their money from flagship city stores to a more local experience.
The allure of the blockbuster department store sale was enough for Geelong resident Wendy Norris, whose family woke up at 3:00am to drive into Melbourne’s CBD.
“We want to get all the sales and just experience it,” Wendy Norris said.
“Mum doesn’t like to lose,” her son James Norris joked.
One Sydney shopper looking for an outfit for New Year’s Eve said a bricks-and-mortar store provided more certainty than shopping online.
“Shopping online takes shipping, so I can get it now, and if you come in early there’s hardly any crowds,” she said.
In the week before Christmas, the Commonwealth Bank’s Household Spending Intentions survey found that spending on experiences had trended higher but spending on goods tracked sideways.
Mr Zimmerman said that trend was “absolutely” having an impact on sales, but it was “just a natural part of retailing”.
“It’s also part of what we’re expecting, and that’s exactly why shopping centres are changing and making an experience out of shopping to try and entice people back into shopping centres,” he said.
Retail stalwarts David Jones and Myer offered prizes to shoppers who had lined up during the early hours, while some of their stores offered entertainment — including acrobats, jugglers and stilt walkers — for the bleary-eyed shoppers.