Christmas retail 2020 hits an all-time high


As Victorian retailers grapple with a sense of Groundhog Day courtesy of the latest snap lockdown, some good news has emerged, with the Australian Bureau of Statistics noting Christmas retail expenditure hit an all-time high.

ABS data indicates throughout the six-week Christmas trading period, Australians spent $55 million, which was an 11 per cent increase nationally on the year prior.

Spending surge

The surge in spending has been attributed to pent-up demand from consumers who spent much of 2020 in lockdown, and who also had extra cash on hand due to an inability to travel overseas or even interstate for much of the year.

The Christmas retail period, which ran from mid-November to the end of December also coincided with relaxed restrictions and state border re-openings.

“From Black Friday and Cyber Monday in November right through to the final days before Christmas and Boxing Day, consumers across the country splashed their cash at the shops,” National Retail Association CEO Dominique Lamb explained.

And when it came to the verticals experiencing the sharpest increases in the December quarter clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing led the charge with an 18.1 per cent increase.

It was followed by cafes, restaurants and takeaway food services (up 10.4 per cent), department stores (12.0 per cent), and other retailing (2.7 per cent).

State by state

State by state

The statistics also revealed some states saw larger sales surges than others with the Northern Territory and Western Australia enjoying the greatest percentage increase.

  • WA – $6.1 billion in 2020, up 17 per cent on 2019.
  • NT – $491 million in 2020, up 17 per cent on 2019.
  • Qld – $11.4 billion in 2020, up 14 per cent on 2019.
  • Tas – $1.1 billion in 2020, up 10 per cent on 2019.
  • NSW – $17.4 billion in 2020, up 9 per cent on 2019.
  • Vic – $14.4 billion in 2020, up 9 per cent on 2019.
  • SA – 3.5 billion in 2020, up 9 per cent on 2019.
  • ACT – $1 billion in 2020, up 7 per cent on 2019

Calls for clearer lockdown triggers and government unity

As retailers celebrated the welcome news that Christmas spending was high,  Australian Retailers Association CEO Paul Zahra has called on the Federal, state and territory governments to offer a more unified response to the continuing Covid threat, after Victoria was plunged into a snap five-day lockdown on February 12.

“It’s time to have consistency from state and territory governments when it comes to Covid restrictions,” Mr Zahra remarked.

“At the moment, businesses are at the mercy of the different approaches from the various Premiers with very little planning time around what the latest restrictions mean.”

Noting the latest lockdown likely affected Valentine’s spending in Victoria, hitting restaurants particularly hard, he said uncertainty and confusion around ‘trigger points’ had been a ‘confidence killer’.

“… one of the key lessons out of this pandemic is to have a nationally consistent approach, with clear criteria, so business can at least operate with some sort of certainty,” he stated.

Sympathy for Victorian retailers was echoed by NRA CEO Dominique Lamb, who explained business operators had now endured their third hard lockdown in less than 12 months.

“Many retailers can’t just shut and open their business like flicking on a switch – they need to ensure sufficient stock levels, organise rosters and comply with updated safety restrictions,” she said.

“Adding to the pain is the fact that Victorian retailers were just getting back on their feet following the second lockdown, notching up a record $14.4 billion in sales for Christmas 2020.”


For more insight into the winners and losers of retail in 2020, see here, or for a view of trends emerging in the sector, see here.