By Aimee Chanthadavong

The latest retail trade figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) have confirmed that consumers continued to remain cautious during the crucial December period.

The ABS has reported that retail sales rose a sluggish 0.2 per cent, seasonally adjusted. 

Speaking to RetailBiz, Australian Retailers Association (ARA) executive director Russell Zimmerman said the results are no surprise.

“Obviously we’re very disappointed as 0.2 per cent is an appalling growth. But looking back, it is exactly where we thought we’d be even though we said it was going to be a slow Christmas trading,” he said.

According to Australian National Retailers Association (ANRA) CEO Margy Osmond, it was Boxing Day sales that saved Christmas for retailers in 2010.

“Retailers discounted heavily in the lead up to Christmas to no avail, but come the Boxing Day sales shoppers – who have had a nose for a bargain all year – finally took to the shops,” she said in a statement.

Household goods retailing (1.5 per cent), clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (2.7 per cent) and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (0.8 per cent) recorded the largest rises in December 2010.

However, turnover fell 1.2 per cent for department stores, 0.5 per cent for food retailing and 0.8 per cent other retailing.

“The wonderfully slight glimmer is when we saw clothing, footwear and personal accessory up 2.7 per cent but that came to the expense of department stores,” Zimmerman said.

Victoria recorded the large increase with 0.5 per cent, followed by New South Wales turnover up by 0.4 per cent, Queensland at 0.3 per cent and the Northern Territory at 0.2 per cent.

Turnover fell in South Australia (-1.3 per cent), Tasmania (-1.3 per cent), Western Australia (-0.2 per cent) and the Australian Capital Territory (-0.5 per cent).

“We are concerned and doubtful about the projected $9.9 billion Christmas figures at the moment. We’re also concerned about moving forward as the slow sales will probably be amplified by the flood and cyclone in Queensland, further flooding in other states and fires in Perth,” he said.

“I think our concern now lies with the price increase of fruit and vegetables such as bananas where we saw a lot of crops wiped out by the cyclone. So I guess seeing those increases in prices we’re probably going to see a reduction across the board of discretionary spending and consumers won’t open their purses terribly far.”