Retail Trade, Australia

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Monthly and quarterly estimates of turnover and volumes for retail businesses, including store and online sales.

Reference period
September 2020

Key statistics

  • The seasonally adjusted estimate fell 1.1% in September 2020.
  • This updates the fall of 1.5% published in the Preliminary release. 
  • Turnover rose 5.6% compared with September 2019.
  • In volume terms, the seasonally adjusted estimate for Australian turnover rose 6.5% in the September quarter 2020.
Sep-2020 ($m)Aug-2020 to Sep-2020 (% change)Sep-2019 to Sep-2020 (% change)
Turnover at current prices
Seasonally Adjusted29,157.5-1.15.6

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September Qtr 2020 ($m)June Qtr 2020 to September Qtr 2020 (% change)September Qtr 2019 to September Qtr 2020 (% change)
Turnover in volume terms
Seasonally Adjusted84,808.66.54.2

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Total retail turnover

Changes in this issue

There are no revisions to the original estimates.

This issue includes updated online retail turnover estimates for the September 2020 reference month. This data can be found in the experimental online time series spreadsheets which provide data for online on a new consolidated industry split. This month also includes updated per capita data, included in the Data Downloads section of this publication.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) in September

The World Health Organisation (WHO) commenced daily situation reports of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak on 21 January 2020 and identified it as an international health emergency on 30 January. From 1 February, the Australian Government placed travel restrictions on those travelling to Australia from mainland China and restrictions on inbound tourism have remained in place. In March, regulations to encourage social distancing saw further impacts on the ability of businesses to trade as normal. This included restrictions on dining-in at restaurants and restrictions on the number of people that could be in a shop at a particular time. Restrictions were eased gradually in May and June 2020. In July 2020, a spike in coronavirus cases in Victoria saw restrictions tightened, especially in Melbourne. Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, and Stage 3 restrictions across the rest of Victoria, were in place for much of August through to the end of October. Movement across state borders have been restricted.

Suspension of trend series

The trend series attempts to measure underlying behaviour in retail activity. In the short term, this measurement will be significantly affected by changes to regular patterns in retail spending that will occur during this time, as certain businesses are restricted from trading for example. If the trend estimates in this publication were to be calculated without fully accounting for this irregular event, they would likely provide a misleading view of underlying retail activity.

The retail trend series was therefore suspended from February 2020, and now published only to June 2019. The trend series will be reinstated when more certainty emerges in the underlying trend in retail.

Analysis by industry

Food retailing

Food retailing fell 1.5% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

By industry subgroup, the seasonally adjusted estimate:

  • fell 1.3% for Supermarket and grocery stores.
  • fell 2.3% for Liquor retailing.
  • fell 3.5% for Other specialised food retailing.

Household goods retailing

Household goods retailing fell 3.6% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

By industry subgroup, the seasonally adjusted estimate:

  • fell 7.4% for Electrical and electronic goods retailing.
  • fell 2.2% for Furniture, floor coverings, houseware and textile goods retailing.
  • fell 0.5% for Hardware, building and garden supplies retailing.

Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing

Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing fell 1.1% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

By industry subgroup, the seasonally adjusted estimate:

  • fell 0.9% for Clothing retailing.
  • fell 1.5% for Footwear and other personal accessory retailing.

Department stores

Department stores rose 1.0% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

Other retailing

Other retailing fell 0.7% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

By industry subgroup, the seasonally adjusted estimate:

  • fell 4.9% for Other retailing n.e.c..
  • rose 2.5% for Pharmaceutical, cosmetic and toiletry goods retailing.
  • rose 13.7% for Newspaper and book retailing.
  • rose 0.7% for Other recreational goods retailing.

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services rose 3.5% in September, in seasonally adjusted terms.

By industry subgroup, the seasonally adjusted estimate:

  • rose 4.3% for Cafes, restaurants and catering services.
  • rose 2.7% for Takeaway food services.

Original estimates for chains and larger retailers, and smaller retailers

  • The original estimate for chains and other larger retailers fell 2.0% in September 2020.
  • The original estimate for smaller retailers rose 2.5% in September 2020.

Supplementary COVID-19 analysis - larger and smaller retailers

Monthly estimates of retail turnover are compiled from a sample of around 3,200 retail businesses. This sample includes around 500 large businesses, referred to as Completely Enumerated (CE’d Units), and around 2,700 smaller businesses, referred to as sample businesses.

Large businesses made up 73.6% of total retail sales during the COVID-19 period (March to September 2020). In the same period in 2019 they made up 70.1% of total sales.

There has been a marked difference in the through-the-year performance of large and small businesses during the COVID-19 period. 

With the exception of April 2020, large businesses have recorded through-the-year growth in every month since the beginning of the pandemic (March 2020). Large businesses have recorded average through-the-year growth of 10.9% since March 2020, up from 5.0% over the previous six months.

On the other hand, sample businesses have only had one month (July 2020) of through-the-year growth since the beginning of the pandemic. Small businesses have recorded an average through-the-year fall in sales of 6.7% since March 2020, down from -1.6% over the previous six months.

Three reasons why larger businesses have performed better during the COVID-19 period are:

  • Generally, larger businesses were in a better position to meet the increase in demand for online sales.
  • There are numerous smaller businesses in the Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services industry, which have been hit the hardest by the COVID-19 outbreak and restrictions. This is the only industry where smaller businesses make up the majority of sales for an industry.
  • In some industries where there was a large increase in sales, larger businesses captured the vast majority of these extra sales. This was especially the case in Household goods.

Online sales

Online sales have had a boost during the COVID-19 period, however smaller businesses have not benefitted to the same extent as larger businesses. In February 2020, online sales made up 6.6% of the total sales for the survey. This jumped to 7.1% in March 2020, before jumping to 11.1% in April 2020, and it has remained at an elevated level since.

The smaller businesses' share of online sales has fallen during the COVID-19 period, as larger businesses have picked up the majority of the extra online sales.

Online sales ($m)Online sales (% of Total sales)Small businesses (% of Online sales)Large businesses (% of Online sales)

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services

Cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services is the only industry where smaller businesses make up a majority of the sales. Along with Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing these are the only industries to currently have sales that are below the level of last year. In addition, since March 2020 the larger businesses in this industry have performed better than the smaller ones, especially during March and April 2020, when sales were falling heavily in this industry.

Household goods retailing

Household goods retailing has seen strong sales during the COVID-19 period. In February 2020, through-the-year sales were up 1.3%, in seasonally adjusted terms. This jumped to 10.3% in March 2020, reached a peak of 29.4% in July 2020, before dropping back to 16.5% in September 2020.

In February 2020, the larger businesses made up 77.8% of sales in this industry, and in terms of growth they had been doing better than the smaller businesses. Below is a graph showing how the through-the-year performance between the larger and smaller businesses has grown during the COVID-19 period. Whilst smaller businesses saw a pick-up in sales from May 2020 onwards, and have had through-the-year growth since this period, the growth in sales has not matched those of larger businesses, which saw growth in sales from March 2020.

Supplementary COVID-19 analysis - online sales

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). 

The Pure-play and Multi-channel split will remain available on request but will no longer be published in the Appendix on a regular basis.

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 September 2020, Pure-play retailers made up 31.3% of online sales and 3.3% of total sales. Online sales for multi-channel retailers made up 7.3% 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 fell 1.3% in seasonally adjusted month-on-month terms in September 2020, following a rise of 6.4% in August, and a rise of 5.8% in July 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 74.5% in September 2020 compared to September 2019. In the 12 months from March 2019 to February 2020, total online sales averaged growth of 14.5%. Coinciding with the shift to online purchasing at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia, total online sales saw a large rise in through-the-year growth in March and April. The series has maintained a new level since that time.  

Food and Non-food

The fall in online sales in September follows the large rise recorded in August. The rise in August was driven by the introduction of Stage 3 and 4 restrictions in Victoria which forced the closure of physical stores. The rise in August was the largest since April when most of the country went into lockdown. 

The seasonally adjusted level of online sales for the Food group rose 2.3% in September, while Non-food saw a fall of 2.7% from August to September. 

As a proportion of total grouped industry turnover, Non-food online sales were 16.8% of total Non-food sales in September 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 fall this month follows the rise in August due to the introduction of the Stage 4 restrictions in Melbourne, and Stage 3 restrictions in regional Victoria, which impacted the ability of physical stores to trade normally in Victoria. 

The proportion of total Food sales made online saw a small fall to 5.7% in September. Food online sales made up 5.8% of total Food sales in August. The proportion of Food sales in March was 3.1%. 

Total online sales remain elevated at 10.6% of total sales in September. This is a slight fall from 11.0% in August 2020 however is a larger proportion when compared to September 2019 (6.6%). 


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Data downloads

Time series spreadsheets

Data files

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 8501.0.

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