The Lucky Country

It was an interesting week in retailing, and in reported shopper sentiment, around the world. A number of seemingly unrelated conversations, reports and emails painted a picture of an emergence from “The fog of war” and into the crisp, clear Christmas days in the Northern Hemisphere, and then a backward glance and pause for breath in Australia.

In the US, retail sales and Deloitte’s pre-Christmas shopper sentiment survey both pointed to retail growth and stronger Christmas 2009 purchase intent than 2008. While the output from the Deloitte-CROSSMARK-Nielsen Shopper Marketing conference at the University of Tennessee this week won’t be available for a couple of weeks, the group of eminent CEOs, COOs and CMOs from DELL, Wal-Mart, Nestle, Kroger and Pepsico will provide a unique lens on global shopper behaviour from retailer and manufacturer perspectives. For the plane spotters among you, that’s a lot of corporate jets!

In Australia two separate, and private, conversations I had with two of Australia’s top CEOs during the week, underlined the fact that the RBA’s rate increases are not expected to dampen our appetite to spend at Christmas.

The first CEO heads up an Australasian advertising and communication group and was happy to call the end to the GFC in the minds, and thus pre-Christmas spending patterns, of all his company’s key clients whether locally-based, North American or European headquartered.

His read on his company’s retailer and manufacturer clients points to heavy spend on traditional media to create footfall. This is supported by my own company’s read on heavily committed retail spend to convert footfall to sales. Both are at levels higher than pre-Christmas 2008.

The second CEO heads up a retail chain. Footfall is strong, same store sales look good and manufacturers are supporting the pre-Christmas plan with fresh promotional ideas, strong product and cooperative advertising dollars. Retailers appear to be coming to the party with buying dollars to support healthy inventories and advertising dollars to support media and catalogue.

All in all good anecdotal observations on our coming Christmas, together with the float of Myer into a stockmarket dip.

Then we had a quick backward glance, when the September ABS retail stats showed a dip of 0.4% in spending in the last three months, off a 1.9% climb in the June quarter. Under the headline large retailers fell 1.1% and smaller retailer sales rose just 0.1%. The ABS also reported that department store sales were 3.8% lower, clothing and personal accessories fell 3.5% and household goods dropped 2.1%.

So what a surprise then that the lower ABS sales stats for department stores were then followed by higher than expected retail sales data reported by both department stores Myer and DJs. I can’t pretend to guess at the reasons behind the anomaly, but having had the pleasure of sitting on boards with the late Peter Brock, Alan Moffat and Mark Skaife, we should perhaps adopt their mantra and ignore the rear-view mirror.

The end of the week saw an email request to talk at a retail marketing conference in the US next year. The subject? Well basically something along the lines of “what are you guys doing down there? Everything seems to be going so well!”

Not sure what I’ll say yet, but if I combine Robert Hughes and Donald Hornes’ intentionally acerbic call of Australia as “The Lucky Country” with the Great White Shark’s alleged comment about “the harder I work, the luckier I get” we could end up with a working title of ” The lucky country; and the harder I work, the luckier I get.”

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In his role as CEO of CROSSMARK, Kevin Moore looks at the world of retailing from grocery to pharmacy, bottle shops to car dealers, corner store to department stores. In this insightful blog, Kevin covers retail news, ideas, companies and emerging opportunities in Australia, NZ, the US and Europe. His international career in sales and marketing has seen him responsible for business in over 40 countries, which has earned him grey hair and a wealth of expertise in international retailers and brands. CROSSMARK Asia Pacific is Australasia’s largest provider of retail marketing services, consulting to and servicing some of Australasia’s biggest retailers and manufacturers.

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