The latest ABS retail trade figures show that sales in December fell 0.7 per cent compared with a rise of 1.5 per cent the previous month.
Sales fell, in seasonally adjusted terms, across four retail industry groups including department stores (-3.5 per cent), clothing, footwear and other personal accessory retailing (-1.9 per cent), food retailing (-1.3 per cent) and household goods retailing (-0.3 per cent). Sales rose in cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (2.5 per cent). Other retailing (0.0 per cent) remained flat.
South Australia (-3.7 per cent) recorded the largest fall in sales in December, followed by Tasmania (-2.0 per cent), Victoria (-1.0 per cent), Queensland (-0.0 per cent), the Northern Territory (-0.4 per cent), the Australian Capital Territory (-0.4%) and Western Australia (-0.1 per cent).
New South Wales was the only state to record growth in sales in December (0.1 per cent).
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman said it was extremely disheartening to have a fall in December retail sales.
"Retail trade for December 2009 confirmed retailers are still posting inconsistent growth and the RBA did the right thing by keeping interest rates on hold,” he said.
“Retailers are now calling on Fair Work Australia to be mindful of any unnecessary wage bill pressures when they start their minimum wage review next month for retailers who are yet to fully recover from the impact of the economic downturn.”
The modest December year-on-year growth of three per cent and the interesting picture painted by a full year of retail figures, which shows food may have saved the day for the retail sector in 2009, confirms retailers are not ready for significant wage bill rises, said Zimmerman.
"The pressure still being felt by non-food retailers in particular is highlighted again by the minimal increases in retail prices (0.2 per cent in June) and (0.1 per cent September) as they struggle to boost consumer demand with sales and discounts.”