Positive retail sales for May, but Covid impacts are set to curtail spending in months ahead

Monday 5 July 2021

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has confirmed more than $31 billion was spent in stores and online in May – an increase of 0.4% on the previous month and up 7.7% on the same time last year.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said whilst retail sales remain on a positive trajectory for now, state-imposed lockdowns are having an impact on spending and confidence.

“It’s pleasing to see retail sales tracking well overall, however we’re yet to see the full impact of the state-imposed lockdowns we’ve seen recently across multiple jurisdictions,” Mr Zahra said.

“The ABS figures released today show retail spending in Victoria fell 0.9% in May as the state entered its fourth lockdown. Queensland and Tasmania led the monthly increases – up 1.6% and 1.5% respectively.

“The next two months of data is set to be a mixed bag across the states with businesses across NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and the NT impacted by lockdowns and restrictions as new Covid cases emerged in the community.

“There have been over 50 days of state-imposed lockdowns this year alone and it’s small businesses and casual workers that are most severely impacted without a JobKeeper style safety net.”

Mr Zahra said the year-on-year results for May were mixed across the major categories of retail.

“When comparing May 2021 to May 2020, spending on food retailing (which includes supermarkets, grocery stores, and liquor retailing) was down 1.2%, household goods was down 5.5%, clothing, footwear and personal accessories was up 46.3%, department stores were down 4.7%, while cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services were up 62.6%,” Mr Zahra said.

“The vast bulk of retail spending continues to be made in stores, with online sales representing 9.1% of total sales in May 2021.”

Mr Zahra said the vaccine rollout is critical to boosting consumer and business confidence and to getting Australia’s Covid recovery back on track.

“Vaccinations are our best weapon to fight the virus and to ensure we avoid Covid lockdowns and restrictions from occurring in the future,” Mr Zahra said.

“The Australian retail community stands ready to support vaccination efforts in any way it can, including by allowing more pharmacies to administer jabs through its vast network of chemists throughout the country.”

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