Australians are spending more money as the worst of the health crisis appears to have passed, but where we shop has started to change.
In the week ending May 3, consumer spending increased 13 per cent on the previous week based on the latest data from credit bureau illion and consultancy AlphaBeta, a part of Accenture.
That lift means consumer spending is now just 7 per cent below pre-crisis levels.
Food delivery services, online gambling, and furniture and office equipment retailers were the biggest winners, each recording a lift of more than 100 per cent.
Even department stores notched up small gains, despite declining profitability putting some stores at risk of extinction.
Although the data suggests consumer spending is gradually returning to normal, illion chief executive Simon Bligh told The New Daily the headline figure only tells half the story.
“We’re seeing signs that [consumers are] looking for ways to save money, so refinancing their mortgage, churning their electricity provider, and shopping at lower-value brands,” Mr Bligh said.
People are naturally hunkering down and being prudent.”
That change can be seen across almost all categories captured in the latest data, but is particularly noticeable within department store spending.
“A lot of that growth is at the lower end, at Big W and K-Mart. They’re doing particularly well,” Mr Bligh said.
That suggests customers have become more value-conscious as the pandemic has played out.
A tale of two consumers
Although overall expenditure has lifted, lower-income households increased their spending more than higher-income households, Mr Bligh said.
Much of that can be put down to the government’s stimulus policies, particularly the increased JobSeeker payments (currently $550 per fortnight) and one-off payments of $750 to qualifying households.
Putting that money into the hands of those who need it most, Mr Bligh said, ensures the money is then pumped back into the economy.
“If you’re on $100,000 a year, you have some wiggle room and have spend you can cut back on,” Mr Bligh said.
“If you’re on $60,000 a year, it’s a lot harder. You need every dollar you earn and there’s always some deficit.
“Maybe you’re slightly behind on a bill, maybe you have something you really need to buy that you’ve been deferring because you don’t have as much money as you need.”
As a result, those payments have prompted lower-income households to spend more.
But these stimulus packages are only intended as temporary measures, with the increased JobSeeker payments set to halve in September, when the government drops the unemployment benefit to pre-crisis levels.
Without that support, spending could take a hit and potentially hurt Australia’s economic recovery.
“It’s clear that the government’s policies are having an effect, and that’s great,” he said.
“But it is time bound, so we need the private sector to get back up and operating to give confidence and start re-employing people.”
Whether the private sector is equipped to fill the gaps currently plugged by government spending will depend on how quickly businesses reopen and Australians get back to work.