Australian retailers are facing a slow start to the year, with January retail sales representing a timid-post Christmas trade.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) sales grew by just 0.1 per cent to $26.23 billion in January in seasonally adjusted terms. This follows a 0.5 per cent fall in December.
“There were offsetting movements by industry with rises in other retailing (1.0 per cent), household goods retailing (0.1 per cent), and cafes, restaurants and takeaways (0.1 per cent) being offset by falls in clothing, footwear and personal accessories (-0.7 per cent) and department stores (-0.6 percent),” said Ben James, director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys at the ABS.
Food retailing was relatively unchanged.
Executive director of the Australian Retailers Association (ARA) Russell Zimmerman said the January figures were “jarring” but he is hopeful some categories will see a rise in the coming months.
“Although footwear is down at this point, we are hoping to see a pick-up in February’s retail figures as the back-to-school period was later than normal this year.
“We believe furniture sales are lower than usual, partly due to the drop in the housing market and widespread pricing pressures for furniture retailers in Australia.”
National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb said the figures show the industry needs government support.
“Today’s figures are not cause for panic, but they do show that retail is experiencing a sluggish start to 2018 and it is therefore vital that measures are in place over the coming months that are conducive to strong retail sales,” Lamb said.
“For instance, there needs to be trading hour’s laws in place that reflect the needs and wants of consumers in 2018, and penalty rates need to strike the right balance between a wage that is both fair and affordable.”
Yesterday the Reserve Bank opted to keep the official cash rate on hold at the record low of 1.5 per cent for the 19th month in a row.
“For a sector such as retail, it is crucial that consumer confidence is as high as possible and maintaining record low interest rates can only assist retail sales in coming months,” said Lamb.
The latest ANZ Roy Morgan consumer confidence rating shows sentiment rose slightly, including sentiment around ‘time to buy a household item’, which rose by 0.7 per cent after six consecutive weekly falls.
Sign up to the RetailBiz newsletter.