Retail trade declined 0.8% in February month-on-month, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures, an upgrade on the 1.1% fall reported in the preliminary data. Compared to February 2020, turnover was up 9.1%.

Department stores enjoyed a 2.2% lift in turnover in February, while household goods retailing increased 0.7% with a 2.4% rise for electrical and electronic goods.

Total online sales fell 2.2% in February, following a rise of 1.7% in January, and a fall of 2.1% in December 2020. In through-the-year terms, online sales rose 52.5% compared to February 2020. In January 2021, sales had been 62.8% above January 2020.

Commenting on the latest retail figures, BIS Oxford Economics chief economist, Sarah Hunter said the absolute level of spending is showing signs of trending down from its November 2020 high.

“The fall back in spending likely reflects households shifting their spending back towards services that aren’t counted as retail trade such as travel and accommodation, entertainment & arts, and personal services,” she said.

“This shift is consistent with the retail data, with cafes & restaurants and clothing both posting solid gains. The fall back on expenditure on food also fits this trend, although the bumper harvest has put downward pressure on fresh food prices which will be partially distorting the data.

“The structural shift to online spending appears to be well-entrenched, with the share of total spending holding steady at just over 9% for the third month in a row. Although the economic recovery is well underway, some traditional bricks and mortar retailers are likely to struggle, particularly now that JobKeeper has been withdrawn.”