Online sales, October 2020 - Supplementary COVID-19 analysis

To enhance the understanding of the economic impacts of COVID-19, additional analysis of online sales in the retail series was undertaken.


Changes to the Online series

The Retail Trade survey has been collecting online sales since the March quarter 2013. The data was previously published as an experimental series, in original data only, as an Appendix to the Retail Trade publication. It was disaggregated by whether the retailer was "Pure-play" (online only) or "Multi-channel" (mix of online and physical stores). 

Over time, the split between Pure-play and Multi-channel remained stable, with Pure-play online retailers averaging 38.3% of total online sales. 

In October 2020, Pure-play retailers made up 32.3% of online sales and 3.3% of total sales. Online sales for multi-channel retailers made up 7.0% of total retail sales. 

From July 2020, the Online series will be published with a grouped industry split; a Food group (including the Food retailing, and Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services), and a Non-food group (all other industries). Due to the limitations of online data collection, a finer split by industry is not possible at this stage. 

The online series continues to use the same source data, and represents purchases made via the internet from employing retail businesses who predominately sell to households. The series excludes direct imports (e.g. purchased directly from an overseas website) and sales from 'households-to-households' through third party websites for example. More information can be found in the information paper Measurement of Online Retail Trade in Macroeconomics (cat. no. 8501.0.55.007).

Online sales, including click-and-collect, have become increasingly popular during the coronavirus pandemic. It is worth noting that retailers have had to adapt sales channels very quickly during the pandemic, and it is possible that the value of online purchases has been under-reported since April 2020. Importantly, total retail sales will not be under-reported.

Seasonal adjustment has been calculated for the new series using the concurrent seasonal adjustment method, meaning that seasonal factors are re-estimated each time a new data point becomes available. Unusual real-world events, such as COVID-19, can distort estimates calculated using the method. The Online series remains experimental, and caution should be used in interpreting the results. Like the total retail series, trend cannot be calculated due to the volatility of the retail series during COVID-19. 

Total online retail

The total online series rose 0.2% in seasonally adjusted month-on-month terms in October 2020, following a fall of 1.6% in September, and a rise of 5.8% in August 2020. 

These results followed large rises in March and April 2020, as consumers turned to online shopping as a way of complying with regulations introduced to encourage social distancing. Stage 3 and 4 restrictions in Victoria saw closures of stores in August, especially in Melbourne, and this led to a further rise in online sales in August. 

In through-the-year terms, the seasonally adjusted series rose 70.8% in October 2020 compared to October 2019. In the 12 months from March 2019 to February 2020, total online sales averaged growth of 14.4%. Coinciding with the shift to online purchasing at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, total online sales has averaged an annual rise of 67.1% from March to October 2020. 

Food and Non-food

Following rises of 5.9% in July and 5.8% in August, as Victoria entered lock down, online sales settled in September and were steady in October.  

The seasonally adjusted level of online sales for the Food group rose 1.1% in October, while Non-food saw a fall of 0.1% from September to October. 

Traditionally, Non-food online sales rise in October and November in original terms, as they have become periods of online discounts. In October 2020, the 0.1% fall in seasonally adjusted terms is a 7.0% rise in original terms. In October 2019, the series rose 6.8% in original, while in October 2018 it rose 12.7%.

As a proportion of total grouped industry turnover, Non-food online sales were 16.6% of total Non-food sales in October 2020, in original terms. This remains elevated compared to pre-COVID-19 levels but is a fall from August (17.6%), and is down on the heights seen in April (20.5%). 

The proportion of total Food sales made online saw a small fall to 5.3% in October. Food online sales made up 5.7% of total Food sales in September. There has been a steady increase in the proportion of Food sales made online. It is worth noting that while supermarkets remained open in Melbourne during lockdown, the Food online number also includes online purchases from takeaway food outlets for example, which have done well during periods of COVID restrictions. 

Total online sales remain elevated at 10.4% of total sales in October. This is a slight fall from 10.6% in September 2020, however is a larger proportion when compared to October 2019 (6.6%).  

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