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Australians spent $50.7b on online retail in the last 12 months; 30% higher than 2020

NAB estimates that in the 12 months to August, Australians spent $50.74 billion on online retail, a level that is around 13.9% of the total retail trade estimate (July 2021, Series 8501, Australian Bureau of Statistics), and about 29.8% higher than the 12 months to August 2020.

Growth accelerated, for the NAB Online Retail Sales Index in August (8.8%), following an upwardly revised July (6.7%, previously 6.4%), on a month-on-month, seasonally adjusted basis.

In year-on-year terms, the growth in the NAB Online Retail Sales Index accelerated in August (25.6% y/y). Year-on-year growth had begun to moderate earlier in the year, given the base effects from high growth for the same period 2020, but has accelerated with rolling lockdowns.

Growth was recorded in month-on-month terms for all categories, led by department stores and liquor, which accelerated and grew at more than twice the rate of the overall index. Personal and recreational goods, and games and toys, also recorded monthly growth above 10%, with grocery and liquor not far behind. The largest sales category, homewares and appliances, continued to grow in August, albeit at a rate slightly slower than the broader index. In year-on-year terms, department stores continue to lead. For more detail, see Charts 3, 5, 7 & 8 and table 3 below.

Mixed results in month-on-month terms by state, with growth in the eastern states offsetting a contraction in SA, NT and WA. Growth was led by ACT (30.0% mom, s.a.), which came close to the record for monthly growth set by TAS in April 2020. Of the larger sales states, NSW continues to lead, and VIC rebounded from last month’s contraction. While department stores led national growth, for the ACT, personal and recreational goods was more rapid, along with grocery and liquor retailing. See charts 4, 6, 9-14, and table 3 for more detail.


Monthly growth in online sales was higher in metro areas relative to regional. The results were varied, with regional areas of NSW, TAS and WA recording more rapid growth relative to metro areas, whereas for VIC and QLD, growth was far stronger in metro areas. For SA, the contraction in growth was milder in metro areas, with a larger drop for regional. In year-on-year terms, NSW growth in metro areas was nearly double that of regional. See Charts 15 and 16 for more detail.

Sales growth was recorded for both domestic and international merchants this month. Sales growth for international merchants was slower than domestic in all categories, except media, and grocery and liquor, albeit the latter is a small share of international.

NAB estimates that in the 12 months to August, Australians spent $50.74 billion on online retail, a level that is around 13.9% of the total retail trade estimate (July 2021, Series 8501, Australian Bureau of Statistics), and about 29.8% higher than the 12 months to August 2020.

NAB Chief Economist, Alan Oster commented:

In month-on-month terms, our NAB Online Retail Sales Index continued to grow in August, accelerating in the month. Growth also accelerated when comparing this August to the same month 2020, i.e. in year-on-year terms. This indicates considerable strength in the index, given that the base of August 2020 had already grown over 65% on August 2019. Growth had trended lower in April and May this year, but has picked up again in the past four months, with a strong contribution from key online sectors. There are reports that, with a combination of increased volumes, and staff in isolation in distribution centres and delivery services, significant delays are emerging. Some suggest that this may impact sales growth in the near term. What we observed in 2020 was continued strong sales growth, despite pressures that emerged at that time. In the coming months this year we may even observe Christmas sales brought forward as supply constraints emerge.

Growth in monthly sales in August was driven by the three key sales states, NSW, VIC, and QLD, as well as rapid growth from ACT. While department store sales led category growth, in the locked down ACT, and NSW, personal and recreational goods grew more rapidly. Grocery and liquor in ACT was quite strong, even though this is one of the retail sectors still open to public. In year-on-year terms, growth for personal and recreational goods is being driven by NSW and ACT, with other states moderating after rapid growth for the same period in 2020. See this month’s heatmap for more detail.

Regional NSW led growth in the month, while metro VIC slightly outpaced metro NSW. In year-on-year terms, both regional and metro VIC growth has moderated to around 5%, but this is compared to a base period in 2020 where growth was up 81% and 130% respectively. For NSW metro, year-on-year growth is now up 74%, on top of growth for the same period 2020 of 51%.

In month-on-month growth terms, there were mixed results by location and merchant category. Overall, domestic merchants recorded strong growth across most categories, but were outpaced this month in the media, and grocery and liquor categories by international merchants, although the latter is a small share of the total for that category. However, in year-on-year terms, the key international categories, games and toys, and fashion, grew faster for domestic retailers.


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