Retail sales declined 1.7% in August as lockdowns continue

Australian retail turnover declined 1.7% in August 2021, seasonally adjusted, according to the Retail Trade figures released today by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

ABS Director Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys Ben James says: “Retail turnover continues to be negatively impacted by lockdown restrictions, with each of the eastern mainland states experiencing falls in line with their respective level of restrictions. In direct contrast, states with no lockdowns performed well with Western Australia and South Australia enjoying strong rises as physical stores were open for trade.”

Another full month of lockdown has seen NSW decline 3.5% to its lowest level since April 2020 when the pandemic first hit. After having restrictions eased in July, Victoria declined 3% as the state was placed back into an ongoing lockdown on 5 August. A snap lockdown on August 12 in the ACT heavily restricted non-essential retail leading to a sharp decline of 19.9%, while a mid-month lockdown in South East Queensland drove a 0.9% decline.

With no lockdown restrictions in place for the month of August, retail turnover in SA increased 6.6%, bouncing back strongly from a lockdown in late July. WA continued to enjoy relatively few restrictions, with the state’s retail sales increasing by 2.8%.

The extended physical store closures across the country continue to negatively impact retail trade in August with the largest declines in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (15.7%), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (7%), department stores (10.2%), and household goods retailing (2.3%).
Food retailing (2.1%) saw the largest increase as coronavirus restrictions continue to limit mobility and keep households at home. Other retailing (0.8%) also rose, in part due to additional online sales.

Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra says the lockdowns are continuing to impact trade in locked down parts of the country, but hope is on the horizon with reopening plans now in place ahead of Christmas.

“The figures released today by the ABS confirm what we already know in terms of the lockdowns and the devastating impact they have on consumer spending,” Mr Zahra said.

“Small businesses have been left reeling in NSW, Victoria and the ACT. They’ve been smashed by Delta and the existing government support measures are barely keeping them going. In contrast, retail sales are more upbeat in states that have been spared the pain of lockdowns.

“The reopening plans announced by the NSW, Victorian and ACT Governments provide some hope that businesses will be able to recover some of the substantial trading losses they’ve suffered in recent months, but for many, the impacts have been too much, and some won’t reopen at all,” Mr Zahra said.

“Unfortunately, there’s little consistency across the three reopening plans, which means there are different trigger points for when businesses can get back up and running again. We continue to call for an earlier reopening of retail in Victoria and the ACT when 70% of their populations are fully vaccinated, like what has been announced in NSW.

“Christmas is the most important time of year on the retail calendar – it’s when most discretionary retailers make up to two thirds of their profits for the year, and it’s crucial that businesses are given every opportunity to reopen and trade at their full potential in line with Covid safety requirements.”

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