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Retail sales slip in March quarter: ABS

Retail sales fell 0.5 per cent during the March quarter 2021, following the 2.4 per cent rise seen in the December quarter, according to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The result was driven by a continued return to normality, said ABS director of quarterly economy wide surveys Ben James.

“The quarterly volume fall was driven by households spending patterns gradually returning to those seen before Covid-19,” James explained.

Food retailing, down 2.7 per cent, led the falls while household goods spending also dropped, down 1.6 per cent. Clothing, footwear and accessories also fell, down 0.7 per cent.

These declines were offset by increased spending in cafes, restaurants and takeaways, up 5.8 per cent, as more and more Australians return to eating out, rather than staying home.

On a month-by-month basis, sales rose 1.3 per cent in March following a 0.8 per cent fall in February. Online sales made up 9.4 per cent of monthly sales during the period, compared to 7.1 per cent a year ago.

The data follows last week’s NAB Online Retail Sales Index, which found that online sales fell 0.5 per cent in March following a smaller 0.1 per cent dip in February.

“The contraction in sales this month was driven by a drop in homewares and appliances in most states, along with games and toys, and an even larger drop in personal and recreational goods,” said NAB chief economist Alan Oster.

“Part of the slowdown in year-on-year growth is a result of the base effects of the initial online spike of March 2020. At that time, online growth accelerated 30.3 per cent and would go higher still by April, as travel and trade restrictions impacted in-store retailing.

“An element of perspective is advised when interpreting the year-on-year results over the next few months.”

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