‘Retail’s Grand Final’: Big discounts and busy crowds in store this Boxing Day

Australia’s retailers and mall owners are confident COVID woes won’t dampen one of the biggest shopping days of the year, with rampant spending, crowded malls, and extensive discounting firmly on the cards this Boxing Day.

Analysis from the country’s peak retail body the Australian Retailers Association forecasts that keen shoppers are expected to spend $19.5 billion in the post-Christmas period, which runs from Boxing Day through to January 15.

Despite a tough year, Boxing Day's sales are expected to be bigger than ever.
Despite a tough year, Boxing Day’s sales are expected to be bigger than ever.Credit:Sam Mooy

Michael Whitehead, the managing director of the southern hemisphere’s largest shopping mall Chadstone, likens December 26 to the retail industry’s own Grand Final. He and his team have been preparing for it for months, and are looking forward to a shopping showdown to rival previous years.

“We’re gearing up for it to be a really busy day,” he said. “The retail sales we’ve seen through November and December, the traffic numbers, all those things indicate that Boxing Day will continue to be really strong.”


Such an influx of spending, expected to be up 4 per cent on last year, would come as welcome relief to many in the retail sector, who have experienced shuttered stores and ongoing uncertainty throughout the year thanks to stringent lockdowns.

While spending has been bountiful at electronics and household goods sellers such as Bunnings and Harvey Norman, discretionary operators such as fashion retailers and department stores have struggled.

However, this could mean big discounts for shoppers in those areas, according to ARA chief executive Paul Zahra, as merchants look to ditch the stock they were unable to sell during the year.

“That discretionary category has done it the hardest, so we’re expecting the biggest discounts in areas like clothing, footwear and accessories,” he said. “Due to the lockdown in March, most of the country’s winter fashion didn’t even get to see the light of day, so expect big discounts there.”

Mr Whitehead agrees, with Chadstone’s raft of retail stores preparing some of their biggest discounts ever.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra is bullish on Boxing Day.
Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra is bullish on Boxing Day.Credit:Nic Walker

“One thing we’ve seen that’s different to last year is the discounting you usually see in the week leading up to Boxing Day…has been quite late,” he said.

“That means stores have been holding their margins all the way up to Christmas and will go really hard on Boxing Day.”

Major department store Myer will offer as much as 50 per cent off swathes of items in its stores on Boxing Day, including main categories such as homewares and men’s fashion. Chief customer officer Geoff Ikin said the Boxing Day sales were an “Australian tradition”, and expected 2020’s to be no different.

“Millions of customers are expected to shop in-store and online over the sale period,” he said. “We expect to sell more than 60,000 sheet sets, 60,000 pillows, and 200,000 bath towels, enough to fill the MCG oval 15.5 times or 528 Olympic Swimming pools.”

However, discounting won’t be the only byproduct of the pandemic likely to affect Boxing Day this year. The sale of goods online has boomed since March, with an increasing number of shoppers preferring to shop from the comfort of their own couch.

If you give me the choice between cricket and shopping, I’d choose shopping every time.

ARA chief Paul Zahra

This means sales which may have historically only been available to shoppers in stores will now be spread online. Chief executive of Wesfarmers-owned e-commerce marketplace Catch, Pete Sauerborn, believes the day could rival Black Friday in terms of its popularity online.

“We’re looking forward to record volumes on Boxing Day, my expectation is that it will be one of our biggest days of the year,” he said. “I think there will be more people realising they can complete their shopping online, and then have more time to spend with their families and friends rather than running around the shopping malls.”

Prevailing hesitance to venture into busy shopping centres, especially following the recent Sydney outbreak, may also prompt more shoppers to stay home in fear of potentially catching the virus.

However, malls and retailers have gone to lengths to stress their safety this year. Mr Whitehead says Chadstone will have a dedicated team monitoring customer levels through proprietary heat-mapping technology to ensure social distancing is maintained and crowds don’t become too unruly.

Individual retailers are still regularly cleaning their stores and many are enforcing customer limits, but recent research carried out by consulting firm Accenture suggests many shoppers are still concerned about their health and safety in-store, and nearly two-thirds are reluctant to wait in lines.

Despite this, retailers are confident Boxing Day will be just as much of a spectacle as it has been in years prior, with customers out and about and keen to shop – unless they opt to watch the cricket instead.

“Boxing Day sales are a sport,” laughs Mr Zahra. “But if you give me the choice between cricket and shopping, I’d choose shopping every time.”

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