Retail turnover rises 16.9% in May

Australian retail turnover rose 16.9% in May 2020, seasonally adjusted, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Retail Trade figures.

This updates the preliminary result of a 16.3% rise published on 19 June 2020 and follows a decline of 17.7% in April 2020.

“The gradual easing of social distancing regulations, and the re-opening of physical stores, bolstered retail trade in May,” said Ben James, Director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys.

“Retailers across a range of industries reported high numbers of consumers returning to stores, with some retailers noting levels similar to those seen in December.”

National Retail Association (NRA) CEO Dominique Lamb said that although the May results are cause for some optimism, the broader context still shows that retail is a long way from recovery.
“April saw the full might of lockdown restrictions hit the retail sector, with an unprecedented drop in turnover. The easing of restrictions in May was always going to see sales rebound, but it is still pleasing to see a sizeable increase,” Ms Lamb said.
“With all states and territories, other than Victoria, continuing to gradually lift restrictions we will be very interested to see what the June and July figures reveal when they are released later in the year.

“In this volatile environment, we can’t simply look at one month and take that as a barometer as to how retail is travelling. The past three months have seen retail trade go up and down like a yo-yo, so we need to be careful about thinking we’ve almost reached a recovery.

“Australia is in its first recession in 30 years and many retailers remain coy about the future given JobKeeper is due to end in September. The situation in Victoria is also a sage reminder that the reimposition of lockdown measures remains a distinct possibility.

There were large month-on-month increases in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (129.2%), and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (30.3%), with both industries coming off very low levels of trade in April. Levels in these industries remain well below the same time last year.

Food retailing (7.2%), household goods retailing (16.6%), department stores (44.4%) and other retailing (9.4%) all recorded month-on-month increases in seasonally adjusted terms and are now at levels well above the same time last year. Retailers reported themes of continued spend on home improvements and high demand for recreational goods.

In seasonally adjusted terms the results were broadly consistent across the states. There were increases in New South Wales (16.5%), Victoria (17.2%), Queensland (16.6%), Western Australia (19.7%), South Australia (16.1%), Tasmania (17.3%), the Australian Capital Territory (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. This is still four percentage points higher than the 6.2% seen in May 2019.

The trend series has been suspended from February due to COVID-19 and associated changes that will impact the original and seasonally adjusted series.

More detailed industry analysis and further information on the statistical methodology is available in Retail Trade, Australia (cat no. 8501.0).

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