The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics preliminary retail trade figures can be viewed with a sense of optimism for the all-important Christmas trading period, according to Australian Retailers Association CEO, Paul Zahra. However, National Retail Association deputy CEO, Lindsay Carroll said the August results underline the uncertain time confronting the industry and the broader economy.

According to Zahra spending patterns for Australian consumers have been choppy over the past few months, with winners and losers, but the overall picture is one of resilience. “The figures show back-to-back drops in August and September. We interpret this as an adjustment or normalisation to the trend, which if you strip out the volatility of the past few months, has been quite strong,” he said.

“Retail trade was up 5.2% in September, compared to a year ago. And when you look at the September quarter, those figures were up 6.8% year-on-year. This is a strong trend that we believe is setting us up for a cautiously optimistic Christmas shopping season.”

He said it was no surprise that Victoria was the only state or territory to trade below last year’s September performance. “The situation can only improve for Victorian retail now Melbourne retail is just days away from opening in time for Christmas trading which kicks off in earnest after Melbourne Cup.

“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, but it may not be the typical Christmas that we’re all used to. We’re encouraging shoppers to get in early on their shopping lists to avoid any disappointments on Christmas day. A Covid-safe Christmas will require more planning for us all.”

NRA’s Carroll said retail sales continued their volatile form in 2020 with September showing a 1.5% fall in monthly turnover. “It follows a year in which retail sales have fluctuated wildly on a month-to-month basis following bouts of panic-buying, lockdown measures and stimulus packages that have boosted discretionary spending,” she said.

“It’s been a very turbulent year for retail, there was a record drop in turnover in April followed by three consecutive months of increased sales. The future is going to remain rather uncertain, with the full impact of the recession expected to occur over the next six months.  The prolonged lockdown in Victoria always meant there was likely to be a dip in nationwide turnover in September and it was inevitable that the high rates of discretionary spending seen earlier in the year would ease.

“Sales events such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday will take place at the end of November and offer shoppers bargain prices less than a month out until Christmas.

“The 2020 Christmas season is going to be absolutely pivotal for retail and we encourage consumers to not be shy in splurging on gifts. A solid festive season for retail will go a long way to mitigating the current economic downturn,” she said.