Retail sales volumes fell 0.5% in the March quarter 2021, seasonally adjusted, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Retail Trade figures and follows a 2.4% rise in the December quarter 2020. Retail turnover rose 1.3% in March 2021, seasonally adjusted.

Online sales made up 9.4% of total retail sales in March 2021, up from 7.1% in March 2020.

According to Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys director, Ben James, the quarterly volume fall was driven by households spending patterns gradually returning to those seen before Covid-19.

“Victoria and Western Australia led rises at the state and territory level, following falls in February associated with local coronavirus lockdowns. Queensland, which saw a short lockdown at the end of March, partially offset these increases,” he said.

Department store sales rose 8.5% and footwear and personal accessory retailing rose 5.4% driven by growth in Victoria and Western Australia. However, electrical and electronic goods retailing fell 2.1%.

National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb said the March figures demonstrate that it is still a volatile time for retailers.

“The 12 months to March 2021 has undoubtedly been the most turbulent period retail has experienced in living memory,” Lamb said. “Panic-buying, lockdowns, supply chain disruptions and myriad other challenges has at times seen retail sales go wildly from one extreme to the other.

Ahead of tonight’s Federal Budget, Lamb said retailers would like to see measures that maintain healthy levels of discretionary spending.

“While it was always expected that spending levels would begin to taper off, we need to ensure consumer spending does not fall off a cliff and we hope to see measures in the Budget that address this.

“Extending the tax offset for low and middle-income earners for a further 12 months will help to encourage consumer spending. While we also hope to see initiatives that help small business and encourage economic activity,” she said.