“I think it was a lot more relaxed, not as frenzied as usual, people didn’t seem to be rushing around this year,” Ms Brown said.
“I think everyone kept a good social distance. We were feeling a little bit cautious, but in the end it was well managed.
“I think you got a bit more for your dollar this year too. More bang for your buck.”
Highpoint Shopping Centre in Maribyrnong is expecting than 130,000 people through the doors until close at 11pm.
Vicinity Centres, which owns 66 centres across Australia including Chadstone, Northland and DFO in Melbourne, introduced pandemic-busting technology to manage crowds.
Every shopping centre website has an interactive feature, updated every 15 minutes, that uses real-time data to show visitor numbers.
Vicinity’s chief operating officer Peter Huddle said heat-mapping technology was also in place to manage customer density in shopping centres.
“We know Boxing Day is going to be busy at our centres, it always is, which is why we’re asking people to plan and prepare before coming to shop … It is worth considering a visit during less busy times such as late in the afternoon and evening.”
Both healthcare workers, Ms Brown and Ms Bolmat weighed up the COVID-19 risks before making their journey to Melbourne this year.
Ms Bolmat said she was comforted by seeing mask-wearing enforced at the big department stores and temperature checks at smaller retailers: “In difficult circumstances, they’ve all done well.”
“We did have to think about whether we came down, [COVID-19] is always something we’re careful about, but our confidence came from the fact we’d go early and leave early before we left the crowd,” she said.
“The number of people is definitely down on what it would usually be, but people seem to be spending – there’s a lot of people with shopping bags … snapping up some bargains.
“You can tell it’s getting busier as the day goes on.”
The Australian Retailers Association, the country’s peak retail body, has forecast that shoppers are likely to spend $19.5 billion in the post-Christmas period from Boxing Day through to January 15.
Around $4.9 billion is expected to be spent in Victoria alone, according to the association’s chief executive Paul Zahra.
He said there was “good momentum” for the holiday sales, pointing to preliminary figures released by the Australia Bureau of Statistics showing a 13.2 per cent year on year increase for retail sales in November.
“For many retailers, 2020 has been a year to forget, so it’s fantastic to see people get out and support local businesses,” Mr Zahra said.
“In-store traffic may be down this year, as more consumers discover the convenience of online shopping.
“However, the retail industry has done a fantastic job ensuring their stores are COVID-safe, and consumers can look forward to shopping with confidence knowing their safety comes first and foremost.”
In Sydney, where the northern beaches COVID-19 cluster continues to grow and concerns remain about a cluster in the CBD, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said suburban retail centres were busier than expected after shoppers heeded her advice to stay away from Boxing Day sales in the city.
On Christmas Day, Ms Berejiklian discouraged shoppers from going to the annual sales event, dealing a blow to retailers.
Ms Berejiklian said there were record-low crowds in the CBD for the sales on Saturday morning and the community’s response to the health advice to avoid the Pitt Street Mall area was “very positive and overwhelming”.
“Those who have gone into the CBD to shop have worn a mask and we’ve seen numbers substantially reduced on last year which is exactly what we wanted to see,” she said.
with Megan Gorrey
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Ashleigh McMillan is a breaking news reporter at The Age. Got a story? Email me at [email protected]