Which retail sectors are booming in the midst of COVID-19?

retail sectors are booming in the midst of COVID-19

As Australians remain at home, faced with reduced employment and social limitations that could last for months, it’s little surprise that spending habits have shifted.

For some retailers and particularly the fashion sector that’s seen a sharp fall in revenue, but for a surprising list of others, buying activity has actually picked up.

So which retail sectors are seeing an uptick in sales in the midst of COVID-19?

Consumer spending

At the end of March, Commbank took an early look at how spending was shifting in Australia. Comparing spending figures from the week ending March 20 this year to the same week in 2019, they noted three distinct shifts in household expenditure:

  • Spending on food, alcohol and health surged
  • Spending on clothing and footwear, recreation, transport and education fell sharply
  • Expenditure on goods was much higher while spending on services was much lower

So, who are the main retail winners in this new spending landscape?


Food expenditure is up markedly, with CommBank noting overall it has increased 49.7 per cent. Food goods (mainly from supermarkets and grocery stores) are the most purchased items overall, showing an increase of 74.1 per cent.

That’s largely because recreational expenditure is down. The week of March 20, food services including cafés and restaurants were down 1.3 per cent, and that’s likely increased since as greater social restrictions came into play.

Meanwhile, accommodation, air travel, travel services were also already showing a drop of 16.4 per cent at that point.


retail sectors booming in the midst of COVID-19

Instead of going out to socialise, Australians are now imbibing at home, and possibly more than they normally would.

Alcohol expenditure in total is up 20.4 per cent, with bottle shops the main beneficiaries. Spending on takeaway alcohol has surged 36.8 per cent, while expenditure in pubs and hotels is down 6 per cent.

Home office

As Australia’s workforce relocated to their homes, spending on items like office equipment and furniture skyrocketed. Whether it was a printer, laptop, extra paper or some technology to keep the kids entertained, Inside Retail noted retailers like JB Hi-Fi and The Good Guys have seen a rise in home office tech products.

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) explains this was part of the third wave of COVID-19 response. After the nation initially focussed on purchasing hand sanitiser, face masks and vitamins, they turned their attention to stocking up the pantry then set about preparing the office.


With the home now the haven for all activities, Inside Retail notes DIY projects have become more popular and that’s seeing a surge in expenditure at hardware stores.

A particularly appealing pastime is apparently gardening, with hardware retailers like Bunnings noting sales in the garden category are on the rise.

Toys and games

retail sectors booming in the midst of COVID-19

Occupying children who by and large aren’t attending school and can’t see their friends is obviously a priority, resulting in a spike in toys and games purchasing.

The SMH notes Myer experienced a massive jump of 475 per cent in toys and game purchases, “with particular demand for Lego, board games and jigsaw puzzles”.

The latter saw a particular rise after PM Scott Morrison announced puzzles were a necessity at a recent press conference.

Home appliances and audio visual

Popping out for a coffee and smashed avocado on toast has now been struck off the activity list, but Australians aren’t going without, they’re simply whipping it up at home.

That’s seen a rise in purchases of home appliances, including kettles, toasters, bread makers and coffee machines, according to both the SMH and Inside Retail.

And of course, binge watching TV, gaming and pumping out the latest tunes is very much on the agenda, so audio visual expenditure is up.


For struggling retailers like bookstores, recent lockdowns have also resulted in a welcome boost. Inside Retail notes Dymocks saw a 344 per cent jump in its online sales compared with the previous week, while online retailer Booktopia has also seen a 57 per cent rise in sales of fiction and 35 per cent in kids.


retail sectors booming in the midst of COVID-19

Many Australians have replaced their former gym routine with exercising at home. Sporting equipment has been widely purchased, with dumbbells receiving a particular mention.

Inside Retail notes “gym equipment seems to be flying off the shelves at Kmart” and according to the SMH, it’s also being widely purchased on eBay.

In line with this new fitness-at-home norm, activewear including tracksuit pants and sweats is one area of fashion retail bucking an otherwise downward trend.


Skincare and beauty products are also popular as Aussies seek to pamper themselves at home. That’s partly because popping in to visit your beauty therapist is no longer an option, but as Inside Retail notes, it’s also because applying a facemask and lighting a candle helps people create a sense of calm amidst chaos.

As a result, a spokesperson for Myer told the SMH spending on beauty products, especially skincare, had jumped 200 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Intimate apparel and denim?

Finally, it’s not all bad news for fashion retailers, but the items people purchase have shifted. Country Road told the SMH they’ve seen a spike in sales of jackets and puffer vests for women, and a “dramatic” increase in demand for men’s denim and knitwear.

Myer also noted intimate apparel, such as sleepwear, bras and undies, have jumped between 100 and 400 per cent.

An online world

Naturally most of this purchasing is happening online, and according to eBay Australia managing director Tim MacKinnon, Australians are now embracing their new shopping normal, “with equally strong sales across almost all categories as even the most everyday and mundane shop is taken online”.