“Normally shops do much better deals, this time I was a bit disappointed, but all in all, it was not too bad.”
End of year sales can be make-or-break for some retailers, with $2.6 billion in spending expected as Boxing Day sales draw in a flurry of shoppers and companies tie a bow on their half-year accounts.
Against a backdrop of sluggish retail spending and small relief from the government’s $25 billion tax cut package, businesses were braced for softer sales. But Harvey Norman chief executive Katie Page said early signs were pointing to healthy trade.
“[My store managers] have been texting me since early this morning and it looks to me like it’s a pretty strong day,” she said.
Gerry Harvey, Harvey Norman’s founder and executive director, said he’d seen small appliances be a popular choice for shoppers leading into Christmas, with the category up 15 per cent for some stores on last year.
“Whatever it is, a mixer, a juicer, a coffee machine, sales are a bit stronger than I thought it would be.”
It looks to me like it’s a pretty strong day.
Harvey Norman chief executive Katie Page
But one unusual item had been completely cleaned off shelves, Mr Harvey said, with the bushfire smoke affecting the country’s eastern seaboard spurring the sale of air purifiers.
“I don’t know if there’s any left in Australia. If there’s ever been a big year for air purifiers, I don’t remember it,” he said.
Myer’s executive general manager of stores Tony Sutton told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald shoppers had been lining up at the company’s Bourke St store since midnight, despite doors not opening until 5AM.
“It’s getting very very busy now, the carparks are already filling up,” Mr Sutton said on Thursday morning.
“We’re seeing cosmetics being particularly busy, which is a bit different from previous years. Menswear and homewares are also getting busy.”
However, some Myer shoppers were forced to leave the store to withdraw cash late in the afternoon after its electronic payment systems went down for a short time at some stores, including in Sydney and Melbourne. The company apologised for the inconvenience and said it would extend its sales as a result.
Retailers had feared the roaring success of November’s Black Friday weekend may diminish their Boxing Day sales, but Mr Sutton said he had seen no indication of a lull yet, with Myer still predicting it to be the company’s largest shopping day of the year.
It expects two million shoppers through its doors across the country. Similarly, major Victorian shopping centres Highpoint and Chadstone are each predicting 180,000 Australians to flock to their stores.
Michael Whitehead, centre manager at Chadstone said the day had continued to be a major event for customers, with traffic near the major shopping centre grinding to a standstill.
“We’ve seen, so far today, an increase of four per cent in [foot] traffic, compared with last year. We’re expecting more than 400,000 people to visit Chadstone over the next few days,” he said.
But not all traders were as confident. Australian Retails Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said there had been mixed reports from Sydney retailers he’d spoken to as they unlocked their shops this morning.
“Some think today is going to be their biggest-ever Boxing Day sales, another said it was average,” he said. “It’s a mixed bag out there.”
Clothing, footwear and gifts were shaping up to be the strongest categories, he said but noted many shopkeepers were discounting heavily in order to entice shoppers.
Reflecting on the last six months, Mr Harvey believes most Australian retailers would have seen largely flat sales, with some risks of a decrease on last year.
“I think if you look at all the retailers, a lot of people are going fine, but it’s not one of those years where you’re four or five per cent up on the year before,” he said.
“You very rarely don’t beat last year, but in this case, it’s not been easy to beat last year. But we won’t know until early January.”
Dominic Powell writes about the retail industry for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
Sumeyya is state political reporter for The Age.