ABS figures show positive signs for retail spending

Nationwide retail sales have surged following the expiry of JobKeeper, with figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) showing that $31 billion was spent in stores and online in April.

ABS revealed that turnover rose by a substantial 1.1 per cent for the month and was up 25.1 per cent on the same time last year, however, that figure is inflated due to the lockdowns and restrictions experienced in April 2020, and when Australia’s economy largely grinded to a halt

NRA CEO Dominique Lamb said it was promising news for an industry that had been very reliant on the JobKeeper stimulus during the first 12 months of the pandemic.

“The end of JobKeeper did have many retailers concerned, but the early signs are that the Australian economy continues to charter a strong recovery,” Lamb said.

“It’s only one month and there remains a degree of uncertainty, but these April results indicate that consumers continued to spend despite the expiration of JobKeeper and the Coronavirus Supplement.

“Autumn is traditionally a quiet period for retail, so the fact that sales have continued to tick along bodes well for the sector.”

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said while comparisons against the 2020 lockdown period are complex, retail trade remains healthy overall, and Australia’s economy continues to bounce back from the worst of the pandemic.

“Whilst today’s results are pleasing, it doesn’t paint a complete picture of what the retail sector is going through. Our recovery is uneven, and some businesses are in a better position than others.

“CBD retailers, particularly small businesses, along with travel retailers are our biggest concern. They continue to suffer through the absence of international students, tourists, and city office workers.

“International border closures are also contributing to Australia’s skills shortage, which is front of mind for many retail businesses, who are struggling to fill positions due to a lack of skilled migrants.”

Figures from ARA’s strategic partner Mastercard also show positive signs for retail spending.

According to the April Mastercard SpendingPulse, there was a 178.5 per cent increase in sales for clothing retailers compared to a year earlier.

Other categories of retail seeing year-on-year growth according to Mastercard’s SpendingPulse are department stores (up 42.2 per cent) and household goods (up 6.9 per cent). Food retailing was down 10.3 per cent, which reflects supermarkets and grocery stores cycling the elevated levels of panic buying from a year earlier.

“Retail sales are tracking well overall, but we know that not everyone is benefiting from the same levels of buoyant spending. Our economic recovery will remain uneven as long as international borders remain closed,” Zahra said.

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