Retail turnover rose 9.4% in December, compared to December 2019, according to preliminary data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

While the seasonally adjusted figures were down compared with the previous month, this is said to be a result of the extraordinary spending levels in November as state economies opened up again.

National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb said the association would wait until the official figures were released next month before finalising Christmas and Boxing Day spending totals.

“What we know for sure is that the summer retail season, which now includes Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November, has been as strong as we have seen for many years,” Lamb said.

“This is partly due to the sudden reopening of state economies, particularly Victoria, during November, and partly due to the fact that Australians have more discretionary income because they aren’t able to travel widely at the moment. But we also know there is a rapidly rising trend of people doing their bargain hunting in November and bringing forward that Christmas gift spending, but then having a round of ‘leftovers’ on Boxing Day,” she said.

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra described it as an incredible result given the Covid challenges businesses faced over the Christmas shopping period.

“We knew Christmas this year would be a challenge, given the threat of the virus, so it’s fantastic to see a year-on-year increase of 9.4%,” Zahra said. “The month-to-month data can be volatile, so we shouldn’t be disheartened by the fact retail turnover fell 4.2% in December compared to November. The year-on-year figure is a more accurate reflection of what retailers experienced over Christmas compared to the previous year.

 “It’s also pleasing, given in-store traffic was down in CBD shopping centres due to the threat of the virus. That was particularly the case in NSW after the outbreak on the Northern Beaches, which forced people to shop locally or online.”

According to Zahra, there is good momentum in the market and he remains cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.

“ARA member Australia Post also reported December as its biggest month in history, with more than 52 million parcels delivered, close to a 20% increase on the previous year. Having said that, the threat of the virus remains, and even when the vaccine is rolled out we’re going to be living with Covid for some time, so some of the existing challenges will remain for retailers,” he said.