So big was the spending splurge on the new iPhone X that it pushed pre-Christmas retail sales to a record high in November, confounding expectations of a weak lead in to Christmas.
Market economists had forecast a lift of 0.4 per cent in November. Instead, sales shot up 1.2 per cent, the biggest jump in almost five years.
Unusually, the Bureau of Statistics has attributed the jump to one specific product. It said the release of the much-anticipated iPhone X on November 3 pushed up sales of "electrical and electronic goods" an extraordinary 9.3 per cent - the biggest one-month jump since the global financial crisis of 2008 when the government's $10.4 billion economic stimulus package boosted sales of electronic goods 12.9 per cent.
"The breakdown shows that half of the rise in retail sales was a result of the astronomical gain in spending on electrical goods," said Capital Economics analyst Kate Hickie. "It presumably reflects the growing importance of Black Friday for retailers as well as the release of the iPhone X."
Black Friday, on November 24, had fashion and online retailers offering discounts of up to 30 per cent for a day only in a tradition imported from the US.
Excluding electronics, sales climbed a more modest 0.6 per cent in November. Also excluding a category known as "other retailing'', which jumped an unusual 2.2 per cent, sales climbed only 0.4 per cent. The bureau said some iPhone sales would have been recorded as "other retailing".
During the year to November, sales climbed 2.9 per cent. Excluding electronic and "other" goods, the increase was 2.1 per cent.
"The reported strength won't be sustainable," said Bank of Melbourne economist Janu Chan. "Indeed, it is difficult to fathom retail spending growth substantially stronger than 3 per cent."
"Given wage growth remains subdued, much stronger growth in spending would likely require an increase in debt. We do not believe households have a strong appetite to increase borrowing for consumption, nor would this be ideal."
Commonwealth Bank economist John Peters said that setting aside the "humongous" iPhone-related jump in November, retail sales were growing at a trend pace of just 0.1 per cent a month in the lead-up to Christmas.
"Looking ahead, the weakest wages growth in decades is likely to keep consumers on the back foot with a strengthening in broad-based wages growth still not on the horizon," he said.
Online sales amounted to only 5.5 per cent of the total in November, suggesting that ahead of the arrival of Amazon in December, physical stores faced little competition. In the past nine months retailers have expanded their workforce by 65,000, most in full-time jobs.