Oh come all ye faithful shoppers: COVID causes Aussies to change buying habits this Christmas


  • Australians are expected to spend less on their family and friends this Christmas as the economic constraints of COVID-19 restrict household budgets.
  • Most shoppers will continue to visit physical stores for their Christmas shopping, but more than 40% of Victorians say they will use this channel less than in 2019.
  • One-fifth of Australians, and more than a quarter of Victorians, will shop more online this Christmas compared to last year.

*The full report can be provided upon request by emailing media@monash.edu*

Australians are expected to spend less on their family and friends this Christmas, with two-thirds saying they will hold out for sales or special deals before parting with their money, according to new retail figures compiled by Monash University researchers.

In a special report by the Australian Consumer and Retail Studies (ACRS) node in the Monash Business School, many Aussies who buy gifts for family and friends expect to purchase less for their immediate family (24%), other relatives (23%) and friends (24%).

This is because shoppers are unsure of whether they will be able to see their family and friends for Christmas this year due to travel and family gathering restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Job losses and cuts to household income will also impact shopper spend, with many expected to be more conservative (58%) or holding off buying treasured items until they go on sale or are part of a special deal (66%).

ACRS has been conducting a monthly shopper pulse with shoppers from around Australia investigating attitudes and behaviours towards Christmas retail in the context of COVID-19 since September, and found that COVID-19 is having a strong impact on their Christmas shopping.

Despite the nation-wide closure of shopping centres and retail strips across the country due to the pandemic, physical stores still remain the most popular channel for Christmas purchases.

However, more than a quarter of shoppers expect to use this channel less than last year (27%), with a higher proportion in Victoria (41%) where shoppers are still waiting to see if their favourite stores will remain open this Christmas.

Conversely, about 20% of Australians – and 27% of Victorians – expect to shop online more to make their Christmas purchases this year. Australians are also turning to online marketplaces in droves, with reports suggesting 17% will use this channel more than in previous years.

The October survey of more than 1,500 shoppers found Aussies were expected to do their Christmas shopping about the same time as usual (68%), with one in five starting earlier.

Principal Research Consultant at the ACRS, Stephanie Atto, said a growing number of shoppers were starting their Christmas shopping earlier than usual due to anticipated longer delivery times and belief that stock levels will be lower than usual.

“As the busiest time in the retail calendar, it’s not uncommon to see retailers preparing for Christmas early in a typical year, with decorations often hitting stores as early as September and behind-the-scenes preparations no doubt starting months earlier,” Ms Atto said.

“In a typical year, most shoppers usually start their Christmas shopping within three months of Christmas (85%), with the majority doing their shopping in the final four weeks (47%).

“But this year has been anything but typical, and retailers have not only had to plan their Christmas product releases, but also think about how they’re even going to offer customers a safe in-store shopping experience.”

However, not only has the timing of Christmas purchases changed this year for Aussie shoppers, it’s also the volume of what they expect to buy for friends and family, as well as the individual products they expect to purchase.

Travel and tourism goods are expected to be hardest hit, with many shoppers reporting that they will not buy such goods or that they expect to buy less this year compared to last year.

On the other hand, clothing, footwear and accessories; personal care (e.g. cosmetics, baby care); and household (e.g. homeware, hardware) goods are most frequently purchased for Christmas shopping and will be least impacted this year.

“It’s not all bad news for travel and tourism goods though,” Ms Atto said.

“When it comes to the value of Christmas shopping, our research also shows that Aussie shoppers who expect to buy such goods will spend the most on average on travel and tourism goods, along with consumer electronics.

“While Australia has nearly passed the pandemic’s second wave and things are returning to a ‘new retail normal’ in time for Christmas – with physical stores open and various safety measures put in place – our research suggests most Aussies will use a mix of channels to make their Christmas purchases this year.”

For more information and to read the full article, please visit Monash Impact.