Retail trade rebounded a record 16.3 per cent in May, following a 17.7 per cent plunge in April, amid a gradual easing of coronavirus-related restrictions during the month.
Retail turnover in May rose to $28.83 billion and was up 5.3 per cent from May 2019, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Friday.
The May figures beat economists’ expectations and exceeded even pre-COVID levels from both February and a year ago.
“Today’s data is a piece of really positive news for consumers and businesses alike,” said CommSec chief economist Craig James.
“It says that the economy is getting back to normal. The data will especially be heartening for smaller retailers.”
AMP Capital senior economist Diana Mousina said retail spending recovery so far “looks like a ‘V shape which may give some confidence that consumer spending will recover quickly to its pre-COVID levels.”
Westpac economist Andrew Hanlan said the jump exceeded the bank’s expectations of a 12 per cent rise.
“This wild ride leaves sales for the year to date some 0.4 per cent below a ‘pre-COVID’ baseline,” he said in a note.
Retail sales have see-sawed sharply in recent months, jumping by 8.5 per cent in March as households stockpiled goods, before diving in April amid restrictions.
NAB was forecasting a 5.5 per cent rise after the Reserve Bank of Australia received feedback from retailers that sales had risen “somewhat”.
There were big rises for clothing, footwear, personal accessories and food establishments in May, the ABS said.
Clothing, footwear and personal accessory retailing sales more than doubled from April.
Still, spending on cafes, restaurants and takeaway services was down 30 per cent from May 2019.
Household goods spending was also up with consumers spending more on furniture, home entertainment, home offices and home improvement.
The figures released on Friday are preliminary, based on businesses that make up about 80 per cent of retail turnover, and are subject to revision, the ABS said.
The final estimates for May will be published on July 3.
But the initial estimate represents the biggest month-on-month rise in the 38 years the figures have been collected, the ABS said.