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Retail figures show no joy for Christmas trade

Retail turnover fell during the all-important month of December, thanks to a sales slump in food retailing and cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services.

Retail turnover fell a seasonally adjusted 0.1 percent in December, according to the latest Australian Bureau of Statistics Trade figures, following a rise of 0.1 percent in November 2011.

Pushing the figure down was an 0.7 percent slump in food retailing and a 1.8 percent dive in turnover at cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services. The falls were offset however by rising turnover in clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing (3.5 percent), department stores (1.1 percent and household goods retailing (0.2 percent).

This disparity suggests consumers were being “ultra conservative” with their spend in the lead up to Christmas, as sales for cafes and restaurants and food retailing had been consistently growing up until December, Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman said the lower turnover in the sectors could be due to grocery discounting by big supermarket chains but “was also in line with reports of low consumer sentiment and ensuring debt levels were kept manageable.”

“Month on month growth across department stores was well below expected levels for the festive season. The monthly boost in clothing and footwear was welcomed from businesses who have been suffering all year but mainly due to retailers discounting heavily to get shoppers through the door both before and after Christmas,” Zimmerman said.

“Continuing the trend, fashion and department store categories were in decline from December 2010, perhaps due to the cooler weather experienced in some capital cities in the lead up to Christmas,” he added.

The largest state contributor to the fall was Queensland (-1.4 percent), followed by Western Australia (-0.7 percent), New South Wales (-0.2 percent), South Australia (-0.7 percent), the Northern Territory (-2.6 percent) and Tasmania (-0.1 percent).

Turnover rose 1.5 percent in Victoria and 1.8 percent in the Australian Capital Territory (1.8%).