While the ABS’ preliminary results said the retail industry had seen a 17.9 per cent fall in sales in April, the bureau made a minor revision to 17.7 per cent in its official announcement on Thursday. This change doesn’t majorly impact the headline figure of $24.7 billion – a $5.3 billion loss compared to March’s figures.
“COVID-19 continued to affect retail trade in April with many businesses closing their physical stores during April due to restrictions relating to social distancing,” said Ben James, director of quarterly economy wide surveys.
“There were record falls in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (-35.4 per cent), and clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (-53.6 per cent), as well as a large fall in department stores (-14.9 per cent).”
The mass closure of the physical side of retail impacted customers and retailers ability to trade, though online retail did see a spike in the month – from 7.1 per cent of total turnover in March to 11.1 per cent in April. NRA chief executive Dominique Lamb said the result emphasised the Treasurer’s announcement that Australia has entered its first recession in thirty years.
“April was the first month to encompass the full suite of lockdown restrictions, so the sector was bracing itself for a giant drop in retail turnover,” Lamb said.
“The March figures were propped up almost entirely by the large-scale panic buying taking place in supermarkets. It was feared that April would see the retail rollercoaster make a downward spiral and that is exactly what has happened.”
Spending in the grocery sector fell 17.4 per cent in April, following a massive 24.1 per cent jump in March. Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said the fall was unsurprising, as were declines in the cafe, restaurant and takeaway category.
“Our retail recovery is one of the most visible signs of economic recovery,” Zahra said. “Conversely, when stores close, the impact on our national mood is significant. The retail sector is our largest private employer and many Australians started their careers in retail.”