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January sales fall on back of bushfires: ABS

Australian retail sales rose 0.3 per cent in January 2020 following the 0.7 per cent fall seen in December 2019, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

The result shines a light on the devastating impact Australia’s bushfire season has had on the retail industry at the beginning of the year, hitting businesses across a wide range of industries.

“Retailers reported a range of impacts that reduced customer numbers, including interruptions to trading hours and tourism,” ABS director of quarterly economy wide survey Ben James said. 

Seasonally adjusted, retailers in the ACT were the hardest hit at a 2.3 per cent fall in spending over the month, while retailers in Western Australia saw 1.1 per cent less.

Spending in Tasmania and the Northern Territory fell 0.5 per cent, while Victoria fell 0.2 per cent. Queensland and New South Wales were 0.1 per cent down, while South Australia saw the only positive growth at 0.1 per cent. 

“These figures reveal just how catastrophic bushfires were to the retail industry,” National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said. 

According to Lamb the bushfires have put the industry on a course for recovery, having seen spending rise and fall across many industry subgroups.

While spending at supermarkets rose 0.4 per cent and liquor shops 0.9 per cent, specialised food retailing fell 1.1 per cent. Electronic goods fell 2.1 per cent, while furniture retailing fell 2 per cent and hardware and gardening rose 0.9 per cent. 

Apparel retailing fell 1.2 per cent, footwear fell 0.8 per cent, and department store spending fell 2.2 per cent. 

Additionally, Lamb warned that retailers are not yet out of the woods. 

While coronavirus was known in January it wasn’t declared an international health emergency until 30 January, and few businesses reported an impact due to the virus’ spread at the time. 

As the situation has worsened in recent weeks, however, the ABS and NRA expect the virus to take its toll on the industry in the months ahead.

“The coronavirus outbreak over the last month will definitely have a negative impact on our retail industry, and the full impact of this will likely be felt in February’s results,” Lamb said. 

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