Australian retail turnover fell 4.4% in December 2021, seasonally adjusted, according to the latest figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). 

The December result is the largest monthly fall since April 2020 and follows consecutive rises in October and November, 4.9% and 7.3% consecutively.

ABS director of quarterly economy wide statistics, Ben James said despite the fall, retail sales remain elevated compared to pre pandemic levels, with December’s monthly turnover the second highest level in the series following last month’s record.

“Despite this month’s fall, retail turnover remains strong, up 4.8% on December 2020, with strong consumer spending continuing post the Delta Outbreak,” James said.

“Victoria recorded the largest fall of any state or territory, down 8.4%, however this only partly unwinds the state’s strong rise in November when it rose to a record level. Victorian turnover is now at the third highest level ever, 6.5% above December 2020.”

Sales across all other states and territories fell except for the Northern Territory, which rose 3.6% as lockdown restrictions eased and the introduction of lockouts allowed more favourable trading conditions for businesses. New South Wales had the second largest fall this month, down 4.2%, followed by Western Australia (3.5%), South Australia (4.1%), and Queensland (0.7%).

Household goods retailing turnover fell 9.2% while department stores experienced a 21.3% fall. Food retailing, including supermarkets and liquor, was the only industry to rise in December, up 2.2%.

Online sales represented 12% of total retailing in December, with online sales continuing to normalise as Australians returned to physical store shopping.  

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said the numbers reveal the beginnings of a slowdown as the Omicron wave began to impact businesses with all signs pointing to a dismal January.

“The outlook for January and February is not as positive for retail with Omicron impacts causing confidence levels to drop to their lowest level in 30 years. Foot traffic has slowed significantly and ongoing staffing shortages, supply chain delays and pricing increases are creating another dire set of trading conditions for retailers this year,” he said.