In a predictable response to the ongoing east coast lockdowns, retail figures released yesterday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have shown another marked fall in retail sales around the country, with record-breaking lows recorded in some states in August.
Most dire is the fall of 3.5 per cent in NSW to the state's lowest monthly levels since April 2020 when the pandemic first hit.
The statistics mark the third consecutive monthly fall in turnover this year for the state, following a drop of 2.7 per cent in July and 1.8 per cent in June.
August saw a decrease in spending across almost every major industry nationally, including clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (down 15.7 per cent), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (down 7.0 per cent), department stores (down 10.2 per cent), and household goods retailing (down 2.3 per cent).
“Retail turnover continues to be negatively impacted by lockdown restrictions, with each of the eastern mainland states experiencing falls in line with their respective level of restrictions,” ABS director of quarterly economy wide surveys Ben James said.
"In direct contrast, states with no lockdowns performed well with Western Australia and South Australia enjoying strong rises as physical stores were open for trade.”
Turnover in South Australia rose by 6.6 per cent, bouncing back strongly from a short lockdown in late July.
The most obvious disparity is between Victoria’s 2020 and 2021 records, with sales in Victoria up 14.6 per cent on August 2020 levels when the state was weathering its second wave.
Online shopping – which showed a rise of 0.8 per cent - has received attention most notably for the burdens the ongoing trend has imposed on the national shipping system. Delivery companies like Australia Post have experienced “major backlogs” across the country as they struggle to meet with a sharp increase in demand, and manage freight workers being forced into quarantine.
Though generally retail figures have taken a hit, certain players have been more insulated than others.
Perhaps representing a mass reconfiguration of lifestyle during the lockdown seasons, leisurewear and sleepwear recorded significant profits when compared to adjacent industries.
Premier Investments (ASX: PMV) – the parent company of Peter Alexander - recently saw its sales rise by 18.7 per cent to reach $1.4 billion.
Similarly, JB Hi-Fi saw a boom in consumer activity as Australians rushed to keep themselves entertained at home, noting a significant growth of online sales of 93 per cent to $780 million during FY21.
Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra expressed hope the sector would recover toward the busier Christmas spending period, “when most discretionary retailers make up to two-thirds of their profits for the year.”
However, uncertainty hangs over whether that crucial period can deliver on expected gains.
“Unfortunately, there’s little consistency across the three reopening plans, which means there are different trigger points for when businesses can get back up and running again,” Zahra said.
“We continue to call for an earlier reopening of retail in Victoria and the ACT when 70 per cent of their populations are fully vaccinated, like what has been announced in NSW.
“It’s crucial that businesses are given every opportunity to reopen and trade at their full potential in line with COVID safety requirements.”
Updated at 10.02am AEST on 29 September 2021.
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