Shoppers are showing some signs of returning. Image – Canva
  • March saw 1.4% growth in retail income across the country
  • The overall sector is 2% up on a year ago
  • While large format retail has done well, smaller retail has suffered

After a troubling year, smashed by a global pandemic and devastating falls in foot traffic to CBDs, Australian retail showed some positive growth signs in March.

Preliminary ABS statistics show that retail turnover across the country grew 1.4% in March, seasonally adjusted.

Compared to a year ago (March 2020), retail takings were up 2.3%. In perspective, this is an incredible result, given the massive shock the sector took as Covid hit and spread its effects across the industry.

Much of the sector is still well below where it was a year ago, and has not returned to anything like pre-pandemic levels of business. CBDs are, at best, 60% to 70% in terms of occupants, as compared to early 2020.

“Victoria and Western Australia led the rises, after COVID-19 lockdowns impacted retail sales in February 2021.

Queensland saw a small fall, with Greater Brisbane impacted by lockdown restrictions from 29 March.”

Ben James, Director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys, ABS

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (+6%) led the rises by industry, driven by increases in Victoria and Western Australia.

Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing, and department stores also saw rises led by these two states. Nationally, food retailing saw a fall of 1%.

The March quarter is relatively unchanged in current price, seasonally adjusted terms. This follows a rise in the December quarter of 2.5%.

So, the recovery is on, if a bit faltering, relatively small and coming off a low base. However, it’s more encouraging news for a sector otherwise ravaged by events over the past year.

Amid the recovery, large format ASX-listed retailers such as Bunnings and JB HiFi have done by far the best, with many of them recording 20% to 30% improvements in the first half of the current financial year.

Small retailers have not fared quite nearly as well.

In response, earlier this month, the South Australian government announced $10,000 grants for small food and retail businesses in Adelaide, the Real Estate Institute of NSW called for ‘streamlined’ retail leases, and yesterday Brisbane Council announced 30,000 vouchers will be given away to entice people back into attractions, tours and accommodation.

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