Canberrans have been on a spend, spend, spend shopping bonanza as the ChooseCBR voucher scheme reached its $2 million quota in a day - plus an extra $290.
Thirty-thousand people used 59,000 vouchers at a rate of a thousand dollars a minute for the 25 hours it took for the tax-payer-funded vouchers to run out.
By Saturday morning, the website was saying: "$2,000,290 out of $2,000,000 has been redeemed so far in the ChooseCBR program. This program is completed."
But some local businesses were asking why big chains like McDonald's were allowed to participate. Some shop owners said, too, that a Saturday relaunch would have been fairer to those who couldn't spend on Friday because they were working.
But many businesses were pleased. "It went gangbusters," Anna Brown of Impact Comics trilled.
The store occasionally holds special festivals and Friday's trade was at that kind of level, she said.
"Great!" Byron Budak co-owner of Landspeed Records said.
"It was great to see lots of people in the city on a cold, miserable winter's day." He said customers were enthusiastic but patient.
A mere eight minutes after opening on Friday, McGlades Jewellers had made their first sale to someone with a voucher (a $300 pair of ear-rings, with $50 off).
The voucher scheme designed to boost the economy in the epidemic was relaunched on Friday morning, a week after it was overwhelmed by demand. But this second time, the software coped with the load. Back in December, a previous version of the scheme failed when the response was low.
Alexandra Harwood of McGlades Jewellers said that the very first version at the end of last year was poorly advertised.
The discounts for voucher holders were also much smaller. "If you spent $80, you got $20 off," she said. This time, it was half, with a limit of a $50 discount.
The people who were well-prepared got the bargains. Of the 240 or so sales at Impact Comics on Friday, 150 were with a voucher. A few came in not being aware but the store made it easy to register there and then to get the voucher and spend.
"It was a very big Friday," Anna Brown said at the comics store.
Not all businesses were completely happy, though.
Satheeswaran Balasingham who owns Star Groceries in Franklin has written to the scheme's organisers complaining that he increased his stock when vouchers were first made available but was then left with unsold goods because the scheme was paused for a week.
"On the first day when this scheme launched," he wrote to the organisers, "as soon as I started getting a lot of customer enquiries, I ordered additional stock to fulfil the demand hoping my business will be registered immediately.
"But the scheme was paused and I lost money.
"Before the scheme relaunched, hoping that at least this time my business will be registered and I can recover some prior loss, I bought a lot of stock (most of them still in my truck). But due to the way this scheme handled businesses and registration, I have lost money again."
Travel agent Rachana Chitre worked on Friday so she was unable to spend any money that day, but she was looking forward to using vouchers on Saturday, by which time it was too late. She thought a Saturday relaunch would have been farer.
The Canberra travel agency owner said she was also unhappy that franchisees of big chain stores and restaurants were eligible. "This has not helped small businesses enough," she said.
The rush to the shops started after the troubled scheme resumed on Friday morning. By Friday evening, $1.46 million had been redeemed. By 8.10am on Saturday, the limit was reached - plus an extra $290. A million dollars had been vouched for within four hours of the relaunch.
Canberrans could use up to $80 in vouchers - made up of a $50, $20 and $10 voucher - each day. It turns out that there was only one full day.
A week ago, the website crashed when it was overloaded with demand. There was chaos and irritation in some stores as people sought to buy items at cut price for store-holders to then fail to access the website to reclaim the money.
ACT government technical staff then made sure that the software worked at such a high level of interest.
"Testing has shown the system is now performing well in a simulated environment of 600 voucher redemptions per minute, while allowing significant numbers of customer registrations to occur at the same time," an ACT government spokeswoman said before Friday's relaunch.
Close to 800 businesses across the ACT had signed up to the scheme before it was taken down just over a week ago.
Among them were multinational fast-food chains including the McDonald's in Manuka, along with several Subway and Zambrero stores.
Some local business people were annoyed that branches of large chains had been allowed to participate. They felt that this undermined the aim of boosting the economy of the ACT.
The ACT's Minister for Business Tara Cheyne said: "I'd like to thank Canberrans for their support of both the ChooseCBR program and local businesses."
A quarter of the vouchers went in the first, paused run, leaving just over $1.5 million to be redeemed on Friday.
"Almost 59,000 vouchers were redeemed by around 30,000 customers across almost 800 local businesses throughout the full roll-out," the minister said.
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