The first quarter of 2017 was a tough one for Australian retailers as consumers tightened their wallets.
According to Deloitte Access Economics’ latest Retail Forecasts subscriber report real (inflation-adjusted) retail turnover growth was 1.2% for the year to March 2017.
Deloitte Access Economics partner and report author David Rumbens said: “The March quarter was a low point for retail spending, continuing what has clearly been a problematic 2016-17 for the retail sector."
“The current challenges are also likely to remain in 2017-18, however we are forecasting that expected labour income growth will drive improved spending growth over the next few years.”
Deloitte Access Economics expects total nominal retail spending to come in at 3.0% in 2016-17, and to moderate to 2.6% in 2017-18. However, more of the growth next year may come from volume growth, with prices increasingly under pressure. Retail volume growth in 2016-17 is expected to be 1.6%, rising to 2.2% in 2017-18.
Big house prices mean big mortgages
“When people in Sydney and Melbourne start talking about moving overseas because housing is more affordable, you have a problem,” Rumbens said.
“Of course the surge in house prices has provided significant support for retail over recent years, with the wealth effect underpinning a declining savings rate and stronger consumer confidence amongst homeowners. But many are also being left with eye-watering mortgages to chase the housing they might have more comfortably afforded just a couple of years ago. Servicing these higher debts will eat into retail spending capacity going forward, and also create macroeconomic risks about which the Reserve Bank is increasingly becoming more vocal.”
All the new jobs are for part-timers
Jobs growth is steady in aggregate terms, but the ubiquity of part-time employment (which now accounts for 33% of jobs nationwide) is associated with rising underemployment.
“Spare capacity in the economy is pushing down wage growth, which is in turn dragging down inflation. Pumped up wealth from the housing market may be keeping consumer spending afloat, but it isn’t enough to offset the impact of record low wage growth. And when wages aren’t growing, it means CPI inflation is also subdued,” Rumbens said.
Risk is on the rise…and the big one remains Amazon
”There are plenty of technology, political, economic and competition risks on the horizon for Australia,” Rumbens said. “And for retailers, China’s economy stumbling badly would be a major concern. That said, a major US-China tariff war might not have the impacts one might expect, and significant upside potential exists in maturing Asian economies and the rise of middle class consumer power in the region.”
“But the imminent arrival of US giant Amazon clearly presents a series of challenges for existing retailers in terms of heightened competition in both online and in-store sales. An effective omni channel strategy, as well as strong brand equity and excellent customer service will be crucial to keeping shoppers where retailers want them. Prices will get squeezed as Amazon has so much scale to absorb very low margins in most of its products."
“The bigger the retailer, the more a threat Amazon’s entry will be. But on the other hand, small players have a chance to thrive by leveraging Amazon’s role as a consolidated marketplace.”
Small players are already doing well in the online space, with Deloitte Access Economics identififying SME online retail growth in the order of 23% for the year to March 2017, and total online retail sales growth of 9.0%.
Catered food keeps going strong
Rumbens said that as consumer preferences moved away from goods and on to experiences, catered food was winning out.
“Catered food spending grew by 4.0% over the year to March 2017, beating out all other retail categories,” he said. “And it’s café and restaurant expenditure, combined with rapidly growing technology in the takeaway online platform space, that’s driving this relatively strong growth.”
Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
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