Statistics can be interpreted from an optimistic or a cautious viewpoint.

The Covid-19 pandemic is still causing sudden lockdowns and restrictions, but the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has reported buoyant retail sales figures for the month of December – up 9.6 per cent to $30.4 billion by contrast to the same month in 2019.

Over the whole December quarter, retail sales increased 2.5 per cent, following a rise of 6.5 per cent in the September quarter.

The quarterly rise was driven by Victoria (12.8%), as volumes recovered following Covid-19 restrictions from August to October, reveals Ben James, the Director of Quarterly Economy Wide Surveys. “Without the Victorian rise, seasonally-adjusted volumes would have fallen in the December quarter”.

The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) has opted for the glass-half-full interpretation. According to Paul Zahra, CEO of the ARA, the latest figures show year-on-year increases across the major retail categories with household goods up $837 million, or 18 per cent, clothing, footwear and personal accessories up $221 million, or 10 per cent, and department stores up $82 million, or 5 per cent.

“Online sales continue to strengthen, making up 9.1 per cent of total retail sales in December 2020, compared to 6.6 per cent in December 2019”, he noted.

Although the ARA is expecting sales to soften in 2021, following the ending of JobKeeper and JobSeeker supplements in March, the organisation believes there is a lot of momentum in the market and remains cautiously optimistic for the year ahead.

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