Retail spending bounces back in February

Retail spending increased more sharply than expected in February thanks to a surge in spending on basic necessities in supermarkets and department stores.

Retail trade rose by 0.5 per cent in February to $27.8 billion, seasonally adjusted, according to figures released Friday by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. 

Online retail contributed 6.6 per cent to total turnover in February 2020.

“Retailers reported a range of impacts from COVID-19 in February, with increases in food retailing slightly offset by falls in more discretionary spending,” said Ben James, ABS’ director of quarterly economic wide surveys.

Preliminary retail figures released two weeks ago suggested shoppers frantically buying toilet paper, rice, pasta and other goods due to coronavirus fears would result in a 0.4 per cent rise for the month.

The February rise follows an unrevised fall of 0.3 per cent in January, which was weighed down by people staying indoors because of the smoke from the devastating bushfire that hit eastern Australia throughout the summer.

January was also the nation’s first back-to-back monthly retail decline since August 2017.

The latest figures were boosted by a 3.1 per cent rise in department store spending, a 0.8 per cent rise in food retailing, and a 0.7 per cent rise in household goods, but were weighed down by a 2.9 per cent fall in the clothing and footwear sector.

The next result will take into account the mass store closures that begun in March, and will be released in the week of April 20.

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