The Sydney Morning Herald

The fly buyers – November 2005

City retailers welcome the trend to shop until you drop – then catch the next plane home, writes Owen Thompson.

Just ducking down to the shops can take on a whole new meaning when your favourite shops are interstate.
It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.

The desire of many shoppers to immerse themselves in a different environment is something that Sydney retailers are focusing on as they position themselves to attract shoppers from interstate and overseas.

During the past financial year alone, Sydney received 2.21 million shopping visitors from all over Australia.

The travel-to-shop trend is on the increase says retail consultant Peter James Ryan, who has helped companies including Coca-Cola, Qantas and Big W develop retail strategies.

“Over the last 30 years the idea of travelling and shopping while you’re travelling has grown” he says.

“Now that air fares aren’t that expensive the whole idea of the bus ride in the sky has opened up the possibility of literally going somewhere like Sydney for a day to shop and flying back in the afternoon.”

Ryan believes there are many attractions of travelling to Sydney to shop.
“The biggest city (in Australia) can support greater diversity of retail and that’s what a lot of people are hunting – something different than what they can find at home,” he says. “Another thing is the idea of shopping as an event – getting on an aeroplane and physically dislocating yourself and going to another place”

“Bragging rights is another thing. You can put an item on and say, ‘I bought this in Sydney’. It could also be going to a restaurant you wouldn’t normally go to or a cafe.”

Tony Matthews, a chartered accountant in Adelaide, has flown to Sydney to shop for about six years, making the trip three or four times annually. He says his friends probably view his habit as “a tad extravagant” but the 60-year-old believes the expense and effort are worth it.

“There’s a fellow in the QVB by the name of Joes Bananas who makes his own fabric and produces his own shirts, suits, jackets and he’s certainly worth the trip” Matthews says. “Where you guys have got it over us is that you can have stores that specialise. Adelaide’s a tad conservative and if you want something that’s just a little different you’ve got to go out of town.”

Events manager Joanne Wood, also from Adelaide, has jumped on Sydney-bound planes once or twice a year for the past eight years. She generally leaves on a Friday night and returns late on Sunday, travelling alone or with a group of friends.

“I tend to find my pleasure in shopping is diminished at home because it’s always rushed,” she says. “When I go away I can shop until I drop and do what I want to do and look at what I want to look at. I go to Chatswood or Hornsby or Bondi. I love just going into the city, too, and poking around in the mall area.”

Wood says she is attracted mainly by the clothes and shoes that are not available in her home state.

“While Adelaide certainly does have some of the same shops that Melbourne and Sydney has, it’s still very different”, she says. “You can look at little boutiquey things that they don’t have in Adelaide. You can get something that you can come back and wear at work or wear out and everyone says, ‘Where did you get that? I haven’t seen that before.’ It’s great to be able to do that.”

Strategies for attracting shoppers to Sydney from afar are as diverse as the range of goods on offer. Ryan says some retailers have developed associations with state tourism bodies or have aligned themselves with airlines and hotels to make package tours available. Other methods are more novel.

“I worked on the strategy for Westfield Bondi Junction and one of the things they have is an actual shopping guide – a person who you can arrange to take you around the centre and help you buy whatever it is you’re interested in” he says. “It’s almost like a safari. You can go and hunt your favourite things.”

Tourism NSW promotes shopping to travellers via seasonal print, TV and website campaigns. Then there are global strategies, with initiatives such as the Sydney Style Campaign, designed to trade on the city’s association with fashion industry giants such as Collette Dinnigan.

“Sydney’s well known on the fashion circuit and we can promote fashion as part of a diverse experience,” says Sandra Nori, the NSW Minister for Tourism and Sport and Recreation. “Other times we might promote other things like food and wine”.