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Lockdown costs retail $5.3 billion in April: ABS

Closed sign due to COVID-19

Retail trade saw the largest month-on-month fall in the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ history in April, down 17.9 per cent or $5.3 billion on March’s figures.

The preliminary figures released on Wednesday show falls in every industry, with particularly steep declines in food retailing, cafes, restaurants, clothing, footwear and accessories – with the impact of April’s store closures rearing its head. 

Online sales, however, made up 10 per cent of the headline $24.7 billion monthly turnover – with more customers leaning on online delivery during the period, and more retailers bolstering their e-commerce efforts.

Paul Zahra, chief executive of the Australian Retailers Association, said the figures were painful, but not unexpected, considering the havoc the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures have caused in the retail sector. 

“We are only beginning to enter into the retail reopening period in May as non-essential physical retail stores begin to reopen around the country,” Zahra said. 

ABS sales data for April 2020
Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics

And while many retailers were forced to close over the reporting period, even those that remained open felt the impact.

Supermarket and grocery stores, arguably the biggest winners in March, saw sales in non-perishable goods fall 23.7 per cent, perishable goods 15.3 per cent and other products 24.5 per cent. 

National Retail Association chief executive Dominique Lamb said the panic-buying flood of sales in March led to customers “placing a padlock on their wallets and purses” in April. 

Given restrictions are beginning to ease, however, Lamb expects April to be the worst period retailers will likely face for the foreseeable future, though stressed there is a long way to go before retail begins to recover. 

“We know that governments at all levels have introduced measures to assist business, but these results underline the need for continued support to save hundreds of thousands of jobs,” Lamb said. 

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