Following a rise of 0.3 per cent in January, the ABS retail trade figures for February has risen 0.2 per cent.

The largest contributor to the rise was other retailing (1.8 per cent), which includes online retailers, followed by food retailing (0.3 per cent) and department stores (0.7 per cent). However, turnover fell in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (-1.4 per cent), cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (-0.7 per cent) and household goods retailing (-0.5 per cent).

In trend terms, turnover has been consistently rising 0.1 per cent in February 2012, January 2012 and December 2011.

Russell Zimmerman, Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director, said year-on-year declines across department stores (-2.8 per cent), clothing and footwear (-2 per cent) and even household goods (-0.5 per cent) showed retailers were off to a shaky start in 2012

“Declines across these key discretionary areas clearly indicate retailers are picking up the pieces of consumers who are under stress as a result of many factors, not least consumers who were spared no relief from RBA’s rate holds in early February due to decisions by the big banks to raise interest rates anyway,” he said.

“Food retailing is again buoying up the sector as a whole, with a year-on-year rise of 2.5 percent compared to February 2011, and the 4.5 percent yearly growth in cafes, restaurants and takeaways show a trend towards eating out – an expense which is often seen as an affordable indulgence.”

According to Zimmerman, looking ahead to next month’s figures, he said: “Consumers’ Christmas ‘hangover’ should have mellowed and we will start to see a clearer indication of how the retail sector will fare for the rest of the year but at the moment the outlook for 2012 is shaky and if there is no relief retailers will be looking to cut staff and reduce hours in order to cope."