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Retailers brace for worst year on record, say analysts


Australian retailers are bracing for their worst year on record thanks to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Supermarkets, pharmacies and hardware shops experienced a golden run during the height of the crisis.

But for many others, the outlook is dire.

Analysts at Deloitte Access Economics expect retail turnover growth to fall 1.4 per cent in 2020, making it the worst ever year.

“2020 has been a tumultuous year for retailers,” Deloitte partner David Rumbens said on Thursday.

“Consumer confidence slumped for a period, job losses have soared and spending behaviour has been tipped on its head.”

After a surge in growth over the March quarter, retail spending is expected to contract by four per cent in the June quarter as the COVID-19 outbreak suffocated spending.

Rumbens said the outlook for spending remained precarious.

“Short-term risks from rising unemployment and reduced willingness to spend will linger, especially as fiscal stimulus programs are unwound in September,” he said.

More worrying is the longer-term risk from weak population growth.

“With borders closed, there is potential for this tailwind for growth to turn into headwind.”

While unemployment is expected to improve as the economy continues to open, it will take time for the labour market to fully heal.

More broadly, it could be a long road back for the economy from the first recession in nearly 30 years.

In financial year terms and adjusted for inflation, Deloitte expects retail turnover growth to contract by 0.5 per cent in 2019/20 and fall by a further 0.1 per cent in 2020/21.

It is then expected to make a 4.8 per cent rebound in 2021/22.

Even though retail turnover expanded by 1.2 per cent in 2018/19, it was still well below a five-year average of 2.6 per cent.


PRE-COVID: The country was dealing with devastating bushfires in January and February with modest month-to-month growth among retailers.

MARCH STOCK-UP: Widespread COVID restrictions led to massive stockpiling by consumers, resulting in the strongest monthly retail sales on record.

APRIL SLUMP: Stockpiling tapered off and discretionary spending got worse, resulting in the worst monthly fall on record.

MAY REBOUND: As health concerns abated and consumers were given the green light to go back to shopping centres, retail spending appeared to pick up sharply.

RECOVERY: Sales expected to be buoyed by an improving economy from a very deep trough, assisted by income support measures such as JobKeeper, deferral of mortgages and access to superannuation.

POST JOBKEEPER: September is already “flashing red” for many retailers as the month for the intended end to JobKeeper and the significant support many businesses, including retailers, have been receiving, possibly leading to a fairly sombre finish to 2020.


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