Why this year's Boxing Day sales might not happen

As long as we can keep the virus out, Christmas won't be cancelled - but Boxing Day might be.

The traditional post-Christmas retail binge is at risk this year, with stores low on stock due to the disruptions of COVID-19, according to Frances Sweetman, senior analyst at Milford Asset Management.

But Christmas is looking good, with retail sales in November up a whopping 26 percent on last year. 

"Consumer spending has been up for quite a few months," Sweetman told The AM Show on Thursday.

"The official September retail sales statistics for the quarter showed that electronic spending was up 15 percent, recreational spend was up 20 percent. People are going out and spending their cash - and also those savings they've had from overseas holidays. I think it was $6.7 billion in 2019 that's being spent."

It's not just overseas travel that's been disrupted by the pandemic - while goods are able to travel more easily than people, it hasn't all been plain sailing. 

"Because of COVID and issues with staff at ports globally, all shipping lines have got delayed and held back. Some ships have been missing New Zealand to catch up on schedules, they've missed their slots. Ports of Auckland is really struggling getting things in. 

"There's a big delay on getting imports in, so we might just not have as much inventory to sell, so [we might not have] those discounts over Christmas and Boxing Day."

Sweetman says most retailers will have enough stock for Christmas, but it will be slim pickings afterwards. 

"I think most retailers are actually okay with the inventory that they've got, but there certainly isn't excessive inventory that will drive big discounts for people to sell." 

Frances Sweetman.
Frances Sweetman. Photo credit: The AM Show

Last year just under $150 million was spent on Boxing Day, up 4 percent on the year before. This year's November sales were perhaps boosted by the growing popularity of the Black Friday sale - which last year was even bigger than Boxing Day, according to EFTPOS operator Paymark. 

"At the moment, most retailers are doing well," said Sweetman. "There are some patches of the economy obviously that are exposed to tourism that are really struggling, so you've got a small group here doing it really tough - everyone else is doing really well. Sales are really strong... Homeware, hardware and gardening spend has been incredibly strong, really, really strong, since after the first lockdown and continues to be so."

That's partly down to pent-up demand, but also record-low interest rates, with those lucky enough to own a house paying less on their mortgages as they refix. 

In October, economist Cameron Bagrie urged Kiwis to get their shopping done early, fearing supply chain issues would start to bite as we got closer to Christmas and the northern hemisphere - already struggling with widespread COVID-19 and lockdowns - went into a tough winter.