Aussie retail enjoys merrier December

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Retailers enjoyed a bumper Christmas this year, with many major chains reporting solid December sales on the back of “digital lifestyle” products such as cameras and MP3 players.

Retailers enjoyed a bumper Christmas this year, with many major chains reporting solid December sales on the back of “digital lifestyle” products such as cameras and MP3 players.

John Slack-Smith, general manager of computers and communications at Harvey Norman, said December was an "exceptional" sales month.

The Apple iPod MP3 player was "the product of Christmas from a standing start to the volumes we achieved", he said.

Slack-Smith declined to reveal iPod unit numbers for December but said the retailer's expectations were met.

Late last year, Slack-Smith told CRN that Harveys was expecting to sell in excess of 20,000 iPods Australia-wide in December.

iPod sales were so popular they were selling faster than they could be shipped to Australia, according to an article this week in the Daily Telegraph.

John Skippen, finance director at Harvey Norman told the Telegraph the retailer had sold a "truckload" of iPods but one shipment to Australia was cancelled, creating a shortage.

Notebook sales had gone from "strength to strength” in the last calendar quarter and were up 30 percent on December 2003. The notebook market had also held its "average sell price”, Slack-Smith said.

Thousands of Christmas punters had also visited one of Harvey Norman’s 43 photo centres in its retail stores around Australia.

The retailer wants 65 such digital photo processing kiosks by the end of the financial year. Customers visit the kiosks and pay to edit and print out their digital photos.

Slack-Smith predicted that "the photo business could provide us with a greater return on investment" the retailer's computer hardware business. "We're very bullish about this," he said.

Harvey Norman had sold a "truck-load" of digital cameras.

While the average camera sell price in 2003 took a "nose dive”, the average sell price was higher this year at over $400 per unit, he said.

Camera sales in December increased 30 percent over December 2003.

PC hardware sales in December were "lineball" with the same month in 2003.

The retailer's computer business would be worth $1 billion by the end of this financial year, Slack-Smith said.

Reseller group Leading Edge also had a bumper Christmas. While the final numbers hadn't been compiled, Stuart Buxton, national sales manager at Leading Edge Computers, said the group's member companies enjoyed solid sales during Christmas.

"Notebook growth is not yet undermining desktop PC sell-through and MP3 sales are up by triple digits year-on-year,” Buxton said.

Adam Steinhardt, managing director of independent Apple retail chain Next Byte, said December had been strong for the 14-strong chain -- but perhaps no stronger than usual.

“I think we always hope for a good Christmas, and we had a pretty good one,” he said. “Christmas is definitely the best time from a customer retail sales perspective. But for dollar value, we prefer months we have a full 31 days.”

Steinhardt credited iPods for much of Next Byte’s seasonal momentum, and more customers were showing interest in other Apple products as a result of iPod’s popularity.

Apple retailers were regularly plagued with supply problems, especially with iPods. This Christmas had seen shortages of the 20GB iPods but Next Byte had covered that by offering 40GB models for a discount.

“Had we not done that, it would have been awful,” Steinhardt said.

Next Byte had also sold a lot of software and iMac computers. “Apple is definitely getting to more people through the mass merchants,” he said. “But we will do well.”

Adam Connor, director at North Sydney Apple reseller Total Recall Solutions, had a “fantastic” Christmas season. “Lots of stuff was selling quite well,” he said.

Connor said pretty much everything except Apple’s G5 computer – sometimes promoted as ‘the fastest computer in the world’ by its maker – sold well. However, that might have reflected the G5’s greater appeal for business users.

“They don’t tend to sell over the holiday season,” he said. “And my comment about the iPods is that last year we were the only outlet in North Sydney selling iPods and we sold a lot of them. This year, there are probably six or seven outlets selling iPods and we still sold a lot.”

iPod accessories were also strong, with the Bose SoundDock digital music system selling like hotcakes despite its $500 price tag, Connor added.

Fleur Doidge contributed to this story.



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