August retail sales remain subdued as focus shifts to Christmas trade

Monday 20 September 2021

Retail sales had a slight rebound in August, but remain down year-on-year, according to Mastercard SpendingPulse™, which measures in-store and online retail sales across all forms of payment.

Retail sales across the country increased 1.1% in August compared to July (seasonally adjusted) and are up 1.6% compared to before the pandemic in August 2019, but are down 2.3% compared to August last year. The year-on-year comparisons were mixed across the retail categories with clothing the most significantly affected (down 15.0%) and department stores also impacted (down 3.5%), while household goods saw gains (up 4.5%) and food retailing was nearly flat (up 0.2%).

Clothing is tracking more than 25% down on pre-Covid trading in 2019, with department stores also suffering a downturn compared to pre-pandemic levels, down 7% over 2019.

The ACT suffered the biggest drop in total retail sales out of all the states and territories, down 14.2% as compared to 2019, with NSW also down (-4.9%). Western Australia recorded the highest increase in sales for August compared to the same time in 2019 – up 16.5%.

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said whilst lockdowns continue to impact in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, a retail reopening is on the horizon in time for the busy Christmas shopping season.

“The Delta devastation is threatening the survival of small businesses, and some discretionary retailers – particularly those in the CBD locations, with many barely hanging on through existing state and federal supports. However, there is hope on the horizon with NSW set to start to open back up next month and Victoria and the ACT expected to follow suit,” Mr Zahra said.

“The timing couldn’t be more important as retailers gear up for the festive trading season when most discretionary retailers make up to two-thirds of their profits for the year and there are positive signs it’ll be a buoyant sales period.

“Research from the ARA in conjunction with Roy Morgan shows Australians are set to spend over $11 billion on Christmas presents this year and 79% say they plan on spending the same or more than they did last year.

“However, the immediate challenges remain around the lockdowns and a lot of pain continues to be felt in parts of the country where stay-at-home orders are in place. The 70% reopening trigger point can’t come soon enough, and retailers are looking forward to welcoming customers back in their stores and to share in the Christmas spending spoils.”

Mastercard SpendingPulse represents aggregate sales activity in the Mastercard payments network, coupled with survey-based estimates for certain other payment forms, such as cash and cheque. This is indicative data, which represents a percentage rather than the entire Australian spending population.

Mastercard SpendingPulse August 2021

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