Retail sales start early

THE troubled retail sector has brought forward its festive season sales to the vital pre-Christmas period in a bid to boost spending in the most important time of the year for retailers.

At the same time a national survey released last week reveals Australians are buying a smaller number of cheaper gifts for their friends and families this Christmas.

In addition, a low Australian dollar, high fuel prices and the introduction of the goods and services tax have all contributed to fairly conservative retail sales leading up to Christmas.

Topping that off is a report from Ernst & Young which found more consumers planned to shop this Christmas via the Internet in an effort to beat the crowds and save time.

Despite this gloomy sentiment, there are still shoppers out there looking for trendy Christmas gifts. Scooters, larva lamps and bocce balls are selling out in city stores in Perth.

“Given the major distractions of the Y2K bug and the GST, things have gone pretty well,” said WA Retail Traders Association manager Brian Reynolds.

Western Australia has performed slightly better than the national average, and the Australian Bureau of Statistics retail trade figures show good increases from the very poor retail trade levels in July following the introduction of the GST.

The excitement surrounding New Year’s Eve 2000 created heightened consumer optimism and higher levels of spending were recorded for the same period last year.

“I think there was a euphoric feeling this time last year” Aherns city store manager Malcolm Read said.

Consumers face an uncertain financial future this year, and this trepidation has resulted in decreased consumer spending. The introduction of the GST and the continuing high fuel prices have had a real impact on weekly budgets, hardest hit has been the clothing or apparel sector across Australia.

“Apparel had a tough time post GST, consumers were very aware of the GST on clothes, however there was a tremendous spend leading up to the GST, but things have been pretty quiet ever since” said Mr Reynolds

Many sectors including apparel are moving away from the traditional sales periods of January and July and hosting pre Christmas sales to try and boost their poor sales levels.

“Retailers are now far more conscious of on-going sales, the industry doesn’t go to sale just twice a year”

A national phone survey by Marketing Focus suggests 31 per cent of Australian adults will spend less on presents this year as compared to Christmas 1999.

“It’s been a difficult year,” said Thingz and Red Dot Stores WA managing director Rob Shirley.

“The Government has taken a huge amount of liquidity out of the economy”

Like many of the big retail outlets his stores bring in new merchandise for their January sales.

“A new crop is bought in so there is variety for the sale” Mr Shirley said.

In response to poor consumer confidence outlets have had to work harder to reach sales targets. Red Dot and Thingz have repackaged the popular scooter with a range of safety items.

Poor retail sales figures create an environment where retailers are hungry to meet sales targets and may offer more interesting deals on popular items.

A savvy shopper might be able to find some real bargains out there for Christmas.

One retail outlet reporting positive sales figures is Bunnings. The Christmas holidays are a great time for the DIY market and Bunnings has reported good sales figures for the period.

“ We’re selling right across the board, we’ve just come off the back of the pre GST housing boom and people are doing a lot around the house at this time of the year so our December sales are looking good” Don Beisley general manager Bunnings.

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