Retail recovery strengthens but gains are not shared across board

Thursday 4 March 2021

The Australian Bureau of Statistics has confirmed retail sales increased 10.6% in January compared to the same time the previous year, in growing signs Australia’s economy is continuing to recover.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said while the results are pleasing, the gains are not shared across all categories of retail and some businesses are facing an uncertain future with the looming end of JobKeeper.

“There’s no doubt retail sales have performed incredibly well in recent months, and the National Accounts released yesterday further demonstrate how the economy is bouncing back from the pandemic,” Mr Zahra said.

“But the positive results are not shared across all categories of retail and the travel sector in particular is continuing to feel pandemic pain. Retailers like those at airports and in CBD locations are suffering and face an uncertain future when the JobKeeker scheme winds up at the end of the month. We continue to advocate strongly to the Federal Government for ongoing targeted support for these deeply affected businesses.

“Some travel retailers have lost 90% of their revenue since the pandemic started which means they are forced to shed thousands of jobs. Their pain will be felt for many more months as long as international borders are closed and without a national roadmap for the easing of restrictions and consistency around domestic border closures.”

The ABS figures released today show year on year increases for household goods (up $902 million or 20%), clothing, footwear and personal accessories (up $168 million or 8%), department stores (up $119 million or 8%) and food retailing (up $1.2 billion or 11%).

Online sales continue to skyrocket and are up 63% compared to January 2020.

“It is encouraging to see the returning strength of some of the discretionary categories of spending, which were heavily impacted by lockdowns in 2020,” Mr Zahra said.

“While retail spending overall is tracking well, this data doesn’t paint a complete picture of what the sector is going through – and without ongoing targeted support for businesses that are still struggling, our economic recovery will leave some people behind.”

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