Retail Sales Rebound But Still Lag Behind Last Year

By Glenn Dyer | More Articles by Glenn Dyer

Retail sales might have jumped sharply in May, as expected after the strong preliminary report last month from the Australian Bureau of Statistics but for the first five months of 2020, the situation was a very different story.

The ABS said retail sales rose by a record 16.9% (seasonally adjusted) in May as lockdown restrictions eased.

That was still short of the seasonally adjusted 17.7% drop in April but were a little better than the 16.3% rise in the preliminary report released two weeks ago.

But for the first five months of the year, sales totalled $130.9 billion, 1.6%, or $5.4 billion less than the $136.3 billion for the first five months of 2019.

May showed a 130% month-on-month rise in clothing, footwear, and personal accessory retailing, while spending on cafes, restaurants, and takeaway food services rose 30.3%.

But both industries were coming off very low levels of trade in April and remain well below the same time last year.

“The gradual easing of social distancing regulations, and the re-opening of physical stores, bolstered retail trade in May,” ABS director of quarterly economy-wide surveys Ben James said in Friday’s release.

Retailers reported themes of continued spend on home improvements and high demand for recreational goods, the ABS said.

Sales rose across the states. There were rises in NSW (16.5%), Victoria (17.2%), Queensland (16.6%), WA (19.7%), South Australia (16.1%), Tasmania (17.3%), the ACTu (12.2%), and the Northern Territory (8.1%), in May 2020.

Online sales contributed 10.1% to total retail turnover, down on the 11.1% contributed in April 2020, as physical stores reopened.

But in dollar terms, online sales totalled a record $2.92 billion in May from $2.74 billion in depressed April.

The worsening in COVID-19 infection numbers in Melbourne and a growing lockdown in the city, plus a dramatic closure of borders in NSW and other states to Victorians from the lockdown zones (which is growing) will see a pause in the pace of the rebound in retail sales in the next month, at least.

Glenn Dyer

About Glenn Dyer

Glenn Dyer has been a finance journalist and TV producer for more than 40 years. He has worked at Maxwell Newton Publications, Queensland Newspapers, AAP, The Australian Financial Review, The Nine Network and Crikey.

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