Australia’s $4.9 billion online Christmas splurge to peak this week

Shoppers in NSW are forecast to spend more than $2 billion this week for Christmas. Photo: Glenn Hunt Shopping at the QVB in Sydney. Retailers are offering pre-Christmas discounts to bag more customers. Photo: Dallas Kilponen

The lure of heavy pre-Christmas discounts and the ever increasing force of online shopping, is causing shoppers to abandon their stated plans of shopping before December.

NSW shoppers are projected to splash $2.4 billion on Christmas shopping this coming week, up 6 per cent on last week’s figure, according to the Retail Council. This is despite its research showing two-thirds had hoped to do most of their shopping before December.

Those who had planned to do most of their Christmas shopping in December say it was because they were looking for gift inspiration, waiting for wish lists, or too busy.

“A lot of people have good intentions … but we’re working towards the biggest weeks ahead,” says the retail industry body’s chief executive Anna McPhee.

“Consumer confidence is stronger, retail sales in recent months are stronger, interest rates are at a record low and unemployment has gone down. They’re all good economic signs.”

Nationally, the online shopping frenzy is expected to peak this week, with both local and overseas e-retailers preparing for $1.5 billion to hit their virtual tills in the period. The Retail Council says $4.9 billion will be spent online in the 30 days to Christmas.

eBay is forecasting the “highest velocity” in transactions before Christmas will occur between 9pm and 9.15pm on Monday, with 14 gifts being purchased per second, as opposed to an average of six gifts per second over the day.

It says mobile shopping will overtake desktop activity for the first time in Australia on Monday, with 60 per cent of the half a million transactions to occur on mobile phones.

“Thanks to the big advancements in mobile offerings … we are now able to fit shopping into our everyday routine – whether that’s during our morning commute, waiting in line for a coffee or from the comfort of our couches,” says eBay Australia’s boss, Jooman Park.

On Monday, just on mobile, eBay expects to sell 55,000 technology items, 14,800 car parts and 13,000 pieces of jewellery.

The Retail Council says consumer spending on international sites is likely to be down from last year’s Christmas because of the fall of the Australian dollar against most currencies.

Ruslan Kogan, founder of local tech e-retailer Kogan, says this Christmas was shaping up to be its biggest yet.

“We’re seeing huge sales of LED TVs. This year, the hot weather in the lead up to summer has also meant air conditioners are a cool gift. Fun products like a set of emoji pillows are also proving very popular,” he says.

“Sales for online retailers always peak earlier. People want the opportunity to conveniently lock in their Christmas shopping well in advance.”

But Russell Zimmerman, executive director of the Australian Retailers Association, say there is now less pressure on consumers to complete their online Christmas shopping early.

“Retailers are now offering a host of options to allow shoppers more convenience and flexibility. We’re seeing a big incidence of people who may order a product online, go into a store to pick it up, and end up purchasing other products while instore,” he says.

While online stores prepare for peak traffic, bricks and mortar stores are strategically slashing prices to keep the momentum going right up until Christmas Eve, triggering smaller players to follow suit.

Myer and David Jones department stores are engaged in a discount battle, with both reducing prices on selected women’s fashion by 30-40 per cent, electrical items by 20-30 per cent, and toys by 20 per cent in the past week.

“Different retailers have different promotional strategies, but the main sales are still pretty much on December 26. The discounts that customers are seeing in the lead up to Christmas are about promotions and they’ll be spot sales,” says Ms McPhee.

Jon Page, owner of Pages & Pages Booksellers in Mosman, says his sales will peak on Christmas Eve. Nearly three-quarters of his yearly business occurs in the eight-week lead up to Christmas.

“Our big sellers so far have been Adam Spencer’s two new books plus the new Wimpy Kid book, David Walliams’ kids book and Alexandra Carrol’s gorgeous book on New York,” he says.

“Fiction and children’s books are by far our two biggest categories but the real Christmas shopping is only just starting. Haven’t had any customers who say they have finished [their shopping] yet, most are just starting!”

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