Retail sales across the board declined in December, following large rises in November, new preliminary data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) indicates.

According to the preliminary figures, Australian retail turnover declined 4.2% in December.

However, when compared to December 2019, turnover rose 9.4%.

Speaking on the results, Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra said that the yearly comparison is a more accurate reflection of the state of retail.

"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%.

"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.

"This is a fantastic result that’s allowed retailers to recoup some of the losses they incurred during the worst of the COVID lockdowns and restrictions in 2020, and it sets them up for a more prosperous 2021," he said.

Five of the six retail industries, including other retailing (including toys), declined in December, led by household goods retailing.

"Household goods retailing, other retailing, department stores, and clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing, fell after large rises in November," ABS director of quarterly economy wide surveys, Ben James added.

"November sales were underpinned by an easing of restrictions in Victoria, new product releases and Black Friday sales," he said.

Victoria led the falls by state, slipping 7% after a 22% rise in November.

Meanwhile, New South Wales declined 5% due to COVID outbreaks.

Zahra added that while there is positive momentum in the industry, the sector will continue to face challenges such as small COVID outbreaks.

"Overall, there’s good momentum in the market and we’re cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.

"According to ARA partner Roy Morgan, confidence in the retail industry increased significantly from October to December – up nearly 70% – the biggest increase in that period compared to all other industries.

"ARA member Australia Post also reported December as its biggest month in history, with more than 52 million parcels delivered – an almost 20 per cent 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.


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