Australian retail turnover rose 1.4% in March 2021, seasonally adjusted, while turnover rise 2.3% compared to a year ago, according to preliminary ABS retail trade figures.

ABS Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys director, Ben James said Victoria and Western Australia led the rises, after Covid-19 lockdowns impacted retail sales in February 2021. Personal accessory retailing and department stores saw rises led by these two states. 

“Queensland had a small fall, with Greater Brisbane impacted by lockdown restrictions from March 29,” he said. 

On a cautionary note, National Retail Association CEO, Dominique Lamb said the results demonstrated the effect that lockdowns continue to play on the economy. “The preliminary March figures from the ABS are, on balance, good news but they also highlight the current volatile economic conditions,” she said.

“Victoria and Western Australia showed a resurgence in March, no doubt influenced by the pent-up demand caused by the hard lockdowns both states had in February. While a short, three-day lockdown in Brisbane at the end of March was enough to plunge Queensland into negative monthly turnover.”

According to Lamb, with end of JobKeeper, a slowdown in in discretionary spending and the possibility of further hard lockdowns, it could be a bumpy ride ahead for retail.

“When Australia came out of the initial lockdown after the pandemic first hit, we saw consumers really splash the cash, but we are now starting to see discretionary purchases slowly start to taper off from the record-high levels experienced towards the end of 2020.” And there is also a degree of uncertainty with business owners knowing they don’t have the safety net of JobKeeper if further lockdowns occur, or economic conditions worsen, she said.

Australian Retailers Association CEO, Paul Zahra echoed a similar view and said while $30.7 billion was spent in shops and online in March the full impact of the end of the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes won’t be clear until April and May figures are released. “We are seeing a softening of sales as we cycle the panic buying from the beginning of the pandemic,” he said.

New data from Australian fulfilment provider, eStore Logistics has shown that ecommerce continued to boom in March with year-on-year growth of 42%. The home and renovation sector was a standout, increasing by 75% year-on-year.

eStore Logistics founder and managing director, Leigh Williams believes while the March figures have slightly plateaued when compared to the past few months, they reveal a more permanent trend in ecommerce growth.

“March is typically one of the quietest months for ecommerce so this growth solidifies the fact that online shopping is a permanent trend and here to stay,” he said.

“With JobKeeper ending in March we were anticipating consumer confidence to drop and ecommerce sales to follow as Australians started to think about their savings. However, we saw quite the opposite.

“Consumer confidence is higher than it has been in 18 months according to the latest NAB report and eStore data reiterates this. Last year was a unique year in the ecommerce industry and we’re looking forward to seeing further growth in April and May which will reflect year-long trends following peak lockdown periods.”