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Early Easter Failed to Boost March Retail Sales

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By Published On: April 30, 20240 Comments

The ABS has revealed that retail trade fell 0.4 percent in March despite an expected early-Easter economic booster.

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed March’s retail spending totalled $35.6 billion nationwide. 

Retail trade fell 0.4 percent on a month-on-month basis. 

This was a modest increase of just 0.8 percent year on year, despite Easter’s expected $18 billion boost. 

Most discretionary retail categories recorded a downward trend. Household goods fell 3.1 percent, while clothing, footwear and accessories slipped just 0.4 percent, and department stores were down 0.3 percent in march. Despite this, the “Other retailing” category  – including cosmetics, sports and recreational goods – saw a 2.4 percent increase, the highest category growth for the month. 

The food category was bolstered by Easter gatherings and celebrations, growing 2.1 percent year on year, and long weekend/school holiday travellers helped cafes, restaurants and takeaway to increase 1.2 percent. 

 Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra expressed his concern over dwindling discretionary spending behaviour.  

“In previous years Easter has occurred in April – this year we celebrated Easter at the end of March which helped prevent overall trading from falling into decline,” he said. 

 “Australians are still cutting back on spending as the lag effect of interest rate rises continues to take hold. While food spending remains constant, there has been a shift towards more affordable and value-oriented products in recent months.  

“The discretionary categories are being hit the hardest, as seen with household goods, clothing and department stores this month despite mid-season sales commencing earlier because of an earlier Easter. The ongoing cost-of-living pressures and interest rate ramifications are making it a challenging period for those in the discretionary retail sector.  

“Whilst interest rates remain elevated, discretionary spending will suffer.” 

The National Retail Association has called on the Federal Government to address the cost-of-trading crisis confronting Australian retail in its May Budget.

“Retailers selling discretionary items are most at risk of exiting the market and are using any boost in sales as a life raft into the next month,” National Retail Association Deputy CEO Lindsay Carroll said.

“Businesses are struggling with unprecedented rent increases, skyrocketing power prices and insurance, and the Government’s May Budget is fast becoming a beacon of hope for many shop owners. 

“High interest rates and low consumer confidence have pushed retailers into a cost-of-trading crisis, putting Australia’s second-largest employer at risk. 

“We call on the Federal Government to put downward pressure on energy and insurance costs so retailers suffering from scarce consumer spending can keep more of what they earn,” she said. 

About the Author: Rosalea Catterson

Rosalea is the Editor of Power Retail. With a keen interest in consumer behaviour and tech, she covers everything ecommerce and hosts the Power Retail Power Talks Podcast.

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