WA retailers gear up for bumper Christmas trading despite coronavirus pandemic

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Western Australia is forecast to see the biggest shopping boom in the country this Christmas, with retail spend set to grow by 14 per cent to $6.3 billion over the festive season.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) is expecting retail spend in WA to be $790 million more between November 12 and December 24 this year than the same period last year, accounting for the lion’s share of the nation’s expected retail growth over Christmas.

“[Across the country] we’re planning a $1.4 billion increase in Christmas spend; at least half of that is actually from WA,” ARA chief executive Paul Zahra said.

“We see the WA state being the star performer for Christmas this year.”

The association, which drew its forecast from Australian Bureau of Statistics retail data and Roy Morgan research, said one of the key reasons for the significant growth was government stimulus.

But Mr Zahra said travel restrictions also made a difference, because people who would have otherwise spent money on overseas and interstate travel were spending in WA instead.

Books and toys in high demand

Perth toy store owner Peter Hicks, who has been in the industry for more than a decade, expected his Christmas sales to increase significantly on last year after a rush on toys earlier in the year, when children were learning from home.

“Coming into December hopefully it could be up to 25-35 per cent better,” he said.

Mr Hicks said the store was performing better than the year before across every month.

It’s been a similar story for book store owner Natalie Latter, who said a renewed love of books and board games and a consumer drive to shop local had resulted in her shop being so busy she had to hire two new staff members in recent weeks.

Shipping delays cause headaches

But both store owners warned they were experiencing delays in some products because of distribution setbacks worldwide.

“There’s a lot of hold up on the shipping,” Mr Hicks said, adding some of the stock he was waiting on was navigating the country before finally landing in WA.

Despite the storeroom overflowing with dolls, games and costumes, Mr Hicks said his store was still waiting on four more 40-foot shipping containers full of stock to arrive before the end of the year.

Billy Sung, a retail and marketing expert at Curtin University, said products imported into Australia from overseas would also be delayed because of reduced production capability internationally due to the virus.

But he said it was not expected to be too severe.

Delays in some books were expected because the majority get printed overseas, but Ms Latter asked shoppers to be open to alternate books and games that were in stock.

“We’re all trying to do our best and trying to help people get what they need, but I think that some things we’re just going to have to be flexible on,” Ms Latter said.

Meanwhile, bike retailers also warned some products would not be available until March or April next year because of increased demand across the world following the pandemic.

Changing shopping patterns

The way people are shopping in the lead up to Christmas this year is also shifting, largely due to behaviours formed during restrictions earlier this year, Dr Sung said.

He said more shoppers than ever before were heading online, as well as using buy now, pay later services.

Mr Hicks said it was impossible to compare his online sales of last year to this year because the growth had been astronomical.

It had resulted in him dedicating several full-time staff to packing and delivering online orders throughout the Christmas period.

Dr Sung said research he was undertaking also showed more West Australian shoppers were choosing to buy local products, instead of imported ones.

“When you actually remind people about COVID-19 … [it] actually makes them prefer local and authentic brands,” he said, explaining that it was because shoppers wanted to support local businesses that had struggled because of shutdowns earlier in the year.

By Evelyn Manfield (Original ABC Article)