April retail sales subdued as most discretionary categories remain in decline

Australian retail sales remained subdued in April 2024, with a modest increase of 1.3% compared to the same month last year – and most discretionary categories remaining in decline.

The latest data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed April’s retail spending totaled $35.7 billion nationwide.

Other retailing – including cosmetics, sports and recreational goods – saw the strongest growth in April (up 4.7%), followed by the staple performing categories of food (up 1.9%) and cafes, restaurants and takeaway (up 1.9%).

Household goods recorded a fifth consecutive month of sales decline (down 1.3%), whilst clothing, footwear and accessories (down 2.5%) and department stores (down 1.3%) both recorded declines for the second consecutive month.

All states and territories recorded overall growth year-on-year, led by Northern Territory (up 3.7%), Tasmania (up 2.7%), Queensland (up 2.2%), South Australia (up 1.7%), Western Australia (up 1.6%), ACT (up 0.9%), with our largest markets both recording marginal growth – New South Wales (up 0.8%) and Victoria (up 0.6%).

Australian Retailers Association (ARA) CEO Paul Zahra said the continued decline of discretionary categories is a concerning indicator that a retail recession could be on the horizon.

“Other retailing is the only standout performer in April, and that’s typically because beauty products are the last category to be affected by economic downturns,” Mr Zahra said.

“Whilst we had an earlier Easter than usual in 2024, spending across the two months has significantly softened across discretionary spending categories, with food and takeaway bolstering overall sales figures.

“Department stores, household goods and clothing, footwear and accessories remained in decline across both March and April, which is a worrying sign for retailers.

“Household goods have suffered significantly. The category recorded once-off sales growth in November during the Black Friday sales – but has otherwise remained in decline for more than 12 months.

“The ongoing cost-of-living pressures, interest rate ramifications and increased cost of doing business make it a very challenging period for those in the discretionary retail sector, particularly for SMBs.”

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