ABS confirms healthy retail sales in March, despite a fall in supermarket spending

Monday 10 May 2021

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has confirmed $30.7 billion was spent in stores and online in March – a 2.2% increase on the same time last year.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said while year on year sales growth is still positive, it’s significantly lower than previous months, driven by a decrease in supermarkets which are cycling the panic buying period from last year.

“Year on year retail sales growth averaged more than 10% between November 2020 and February 2021, but that’s come down significantly in March, mainly due to the elevated levels of spending we saw last year in supermarkets at the start of the pandemic,” Mr Zahra said.

“Whilst food retailing was down $2.1 billion – or 15% – through the year to March, the other categories of retail have performed exceptionally well.

“Household goods were up $518 million or 10%, clothing, footwear and personal accessories were up $880 million or 54%, department stores were up $368 million or 25% and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services were up $1 billion or 33%.

“Australians continue to embrace online shopping with sales up 37.4% in March compared to the same time last year.

“There’s no doubt the retail sector is helping to drive Australia’s economic recovery, but more needs to be done to remove the impediments to productivity and growth.

“The skills shortage is a major issue for a lot of retailers, and with the Federal Government flagging that international borders will remain closed until 2022 – the lack of skilled migrants will remain an ongoing concern for businesses struggling to fill the gap in their workforces.

“The Federal Government has a key role to play in providing training, upskilling programs and incentives to support new and existing workers. There have been numerous announcements about training programs and apprenticeships in recent times, but these are usually geared towards the traditional trades, overlooking retail workers. That’s overlooking retail – Australia’s largest private sector employer, where one in 10 Australians work. The sector will play an enormous part in our national recovery.

“There needs to be a retail focus in any future training or upskilling programs and we urge the Federal Government to make that clear in tomorrow night’s Budget.”

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