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1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2001  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2001   
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THE CHANGING FACE OF THE RETAIL INDUSTRY: 1948 to 1992

The ABS conducted its first census of the retail industry in respect of 1947-48 and has repeated them at about six yearly intervals until the most recent, undertaken in respect of 1991-92. This article outlines some of the main changes in the characteristics of the retail industry over the 44 years between those two collections.

At the broad level (table 21.7) the industry has clearly experienced considerable change over the period. The number of retail outlets has nearly doubled, from the 114,000 retail locations operating in 1947-48 to almost 210,000 locations in 1991-92. At the same time, the turnover of the retail industry has increased from just over $2b (one billion pounds as it was then) to more than $138b in 1991-92. Average turnover per location has increased from $17,500 in 1947-48 to over $650,000 in 1991-92. Of course population growth and inflation are major contributors to the enormous increase in turnover, the Australian population increasing by nearly 170% and the Consumer Price Index almost nineteen fold over the period. However, after adjusting for population growth and inflation there has been a real and significant increase in turnover per head of population, nearly 66% over the period, which represents an annual growth rate of 1.2%.


21.7 RETAIL INDUSTRY, By State

1947-48

1991-92

State/Territory
Number
of retail
outlets

no.
Turnover

$m
Turnover
per head
of population

$
Number
of retail
outlets

no.
Turnover

$m
Turnover
per head
of population

$

New South Wales
42,101
825
273
70,707
48,796
8,183
Victoria
34,333
575
275
54,330
33,331
7,482
Queensland
15,642
285
252
36,902
24,745
8,167
South Australia
10,207
169
256
17,619
10,726
7,362
Western Australia
7,826
139
270
19,721
13,718
8,274
Tasmania
3,555
62
238
5,905
3,458
7,357
Northern Territory
168
3
275
1,674
1,408
8,381
Australian Capital Territory
133
4
185
2,752
2,509
8,505
Total
113,965
2,062
267
209,614
138,695
7,928

Source: Retailing in [State/Territory], 1991-92 (8623.1 - 8623.8); Census of Retail Establishments, Year Ended 30 June 1948, Bulletin No. 1 Australia (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics).


While the aggregate numbers are of interest, the composition of the industry provides insights to the changing face of retail. While the changing descriptions of retail businesses over time make comparisons a little difficult, particularly with the widespread existence in 1947-48 of the general store and the mixed business store, broad comparisons can be made with reasonable confidence. For example in 1947-48 over 40% (45,941) of retail locations in Australia were primarily involved in food retailing (table 21.8), the largest categories being grocers, a group comprising confectioners, milk bars and cafes, and mixed businesses.


21.8 FOOD RETAILING, By Sector - 1947-48

Retail locations

no.
Proportion of total
food retailing
locations

%

Grocers
11,118
24.2
Mixed businesses
7,459
16.2
Confectioners, milk bars and cafes
8,659
18.8
Butchers
6,540
14.2
Bakers and cake shops
4,717
10.3
Fruiterers
5,002
10.9
Delicatessens
1,261
2.7
Fishmongers and poulterers
1,185
2.6
Total food retailing
45,941
100.0

Source: Census of Retail Establishments, Year Ended 30 June 1948, Bulletin No. 1, Australia (Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics).


In 1991-92, on the other hand, while the number of food retailing locations had increased by 43% to 65,734 locations (see table 21.9), food retailing accounted for less than a third of all retail locations. Furthermore, by 1991-92 over 50% (34,443 locations) of the food retailing locations were involved in either takeaway food (20,034 locations) or cafes and restaurants (14,409 locations). The comparable sector in 1947-48, namely confectioners, milk bars, cafes etc., accounted for only 8,659 locations. In the absence of the rapid growth in takeaway food retailing, and in cafes and restaurants, there would have been a decline in the number of food retailing locations.


21.9 FOOD RETAILING, By Sector - 1991-92

Sector
Retail locations

no.
Proportion of
total food retailing

%

Supermarkets and grocery stores
9,476
14.4
Fresh meat, fish and poultry retailing
7,337
11.2
Fruit and vegetable retailing
3,650
5.6
Bread and cake retailing
4,755
7.2
Takeaway food retailing
20,334
30.9
Specialised food retailing n.e.c.
5,773
8.8
Cafes and restaurants
14,409
21.9
Total food retailing
65,734
100.0

Source: Retailing in [State/Territory], 1991-92 (8623.1-8623.8).


The emergence of the takeaway food store was not the only phenomenon during the period, which also saw the emergence of the supermarket to replace the many corner grocery stores and mixed business stores operating in 1947-48. Whereas in 1947-48 there were 18,577 grocers and mixed business locations, by 1991-92 there were only 9,476 supermarkets and grocery stores. Of course the impact of the supermarket was not restricted to grocery and mixed business stores. In the same period the number of fruit and vegetable retailers declined by 27%; fresh meat, fish and poultry retailers declined by 5%; and the number of bread and cake retailers remained largely unchanged.

Offsetting the low growth in food retailing were a number of areas of rapid increase. The most notable increase, not surprisingly given the expanding role of the motor vehicle in the period, was in motor vehicle retailing and services. In this category the number of locations increased more than fourfold, from about 7,500 in 1947-48 to over 32,000 locations in 1991-92, and turnover increased from $264m in 1947-48 to $44b in 1991-92. Other retail areas experiencing large increases in the number of locations were hairdressers (from 8,400 to 15,700 locations), clothing stores (from 10,200 to 15,600 locations), newsagents and bookstores (from 2,700 to 6,900 locations) and chemists and cosmetic stores (from 3,000 to 5,600 locations).

The takeaway store was not the only industry to emerge in the period. Also contributing to the growth in the number of locations was the emergence of new retail activities such as video hire outlets (3,200 locations in 1991-92) and photographic film processing (1,500 locations).



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